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Qualcomm Adreno X1 GPU Performs Well, Reduces Power

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To compete with Intel in PC processors, Qualcomm developed a faster Adreno GPU and refined its software. The seventh-generation architecture in the Qualcomm Adreno X1 GPU matches the peak number-crunching rate of the Intel Meteor Lake GPU but requires much less power according to the smartphone-processor powerhouse. Integrated alongside the Qualcomm Oryon CPU in the new Snapdragon X processor, the Adreno X1 is a key component in the company’s most credible foray into PC processors to date.

Adreno X1 Boosts Frequency by 50%

GPU organization differs among vendors and architectures. Qualcomm describes the Adreno X1 as a six-shader (six-core) design. Each core has two microshader/texture pipes. We believe this to be the same configuration as the 2022-generation GPU employed in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 flagship smartphone chip.

At 1.5 GHz, the X1 runs 50% faster than typical high-end Adreno GPUs for smartphones, raising GPU throughput by about the same amount and lending insight into how the next Snapdragon 8 will perform. Adreno’s main smartphone rival, the 14-core Arm Immortalis-G925, should deliver greater raw throughput if the two GPUs run at 1.0 GHz.

Memory Bandwidth and Driver Tweaks Determine Performance

Raw throughput doesn’t necessarily translate to real-world gaming performance. On select titles, however, Qualcomm shows its processor typically matches Meteor Lake’s frame rate. Qualcomm’s highlighted game selection is likely a combination of titles that run well out of the box and ones that the company has analyzed and adapted its drivers for compatibility and performance. Others may run poorly, if at all. The company lists tested games, vows to release monthly driver updates, and maintains a developer network. (A specially optimized Adrenochrome browser is yet to be listed.)

The most advanced (AAA) games running on high-end rigs tend to be either CPU- or GPU-bound. The situation differs for space- and power-constrained small laptops. Qualcomm notes that for Snapdragon and Meteor, memory bandwidth is the limiter, obscuring CPU and GPU performance differences.

Low Power Differentiates Adreno

Users of small laptops, however, value battery life, making GPU performance per watt the prime competitive basis. Comparing the new Adreno to Meteor’s GPU on the cross-platform, 4K-resolution 3DMark Wild Life Extreme benchmark, Qualcomm claims its GPU requires 62% less power.

Bin Primitives to Save Power

An efficiency gain is unsurprising from a GPU originally targeting smartphones, not PCs, but its magnitude is remarkable. Although the new Adreno supports direct-mode rendering, the standard approach for PC graphics, it also implements binned mode. Qualcomm’s variation on tile-based rendering, binned mode processes nearby graphic elements together, enabling them to stay in local memory longer and reducing power-hungery off-chip memory accesses.

The X1 also implements a binned direct mode in which the binning hardware takes a preliminary rendering pass, filtering out primitives that won’t be visible in the final scene, before sending work to a direct-rendering stage. This hybrid mode, therefore, reduces power and raises throughput compared with the direct approach and is akin to the fragment prepass capability Arm added to the Immortalis-G925’s architecture.

No Ray Tracing

Notable in its absence is accelerated ray tracing. The Adreno X1 has ray-tracing hardware but supports it only with Vulkan, a low-level graphics API more commonly used by Android than Windows software. Meteor Lake, by contrast, supports Windows DirectX Raytracing (DXR). However, its throughput is likely too low for AAA games, and ray tracing has less adoption in lower tiers to make the capability a decisive factor for PC buyers.

Bottom Line

Reviewers are obtaining Snapdragon X systems, and we expect benchmark results to soon be posted. Some will pan the chip’s GPU performance. However, for the small, low-power systems it targets, the objective isn’t to provide good graphics for game enthusiasts but instead to deliver good enough graphics for casual players and content creators. The Qualcomm Adreno X1 should meet this threshold.

Games especially can be finicky, however, owing to most being optimized initially for a particular vendor’s GPU (which one could that be?) and the Arm-architecture switch further complicates compatibility and performance. With deep pockets and an intent to succeed, Qualcomm is on the path to deliver the graphics capabilities required for the Snapdragon X to shake up the PC market.


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