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Tested: Don’t buy a Snapdragon X Elite laptop for PC gaming

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2024 is an exciting year for Windows. While the AI features touted by Microsoft’s Copilot+ PCs are a flat miss, the new Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite hardware inside Copilot+ PCs is a definite win.

Finally, after more than a decade of effort, Windows on Arm is a viable alternative to traditional x86 processors—and it’s especially alluring if you long for longer battery life.

But what about games? There’s reason to be skeptical., despite Qualcomm’s pre-release claims that games should just work on Snapdragon X Elite. Games are often developed with a highly specific platform target. Even ports that seem simple, like a move from PlayStation 5 to Xbox Series X|S, can take a lot more effort than you might think. 

To find out how well Qualcomm’s chips fare in PC games, I pitted Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop 7 against a Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with an Intel Core Ultra processor and Intel Arc integrated graphics. The results are shocking.

Further reading: Surface Laptop 7 review: A new Snapdragon-powered era for Windows laptops

Qualcomm vs. Intel integrated GPUs

Every Qualcomm Snapdragon X chip comes with an integrated Qualcomm Adreno X1 GPU, though the IGP’s performance varies a bit depending on the particular Snapdragon X chip in a device: 

Snapdragon X Plus X1P-64-100: 3.8 TFLOPs

Snapdragon X Elite X1E-78-100: 3.8 TFLOPs

Snapdragon X Elite X1E-80-100: 3.8 TFLOPs

Snapdragon X Elite X1E-84-100: 4.6 TFLOPs

As you can see, Qualcomm’s naming conventions are a bit opaque even by the standards of the industry, so you’ll need to pay close attention when buying a Qualcomm-powered Windows laptop.

Though the X1E-84-100 is the best Qualcomm chip, it’s currently exclusive to the Samsung Galaxy Book4 Edge, leaving the X1E-80-100 in the leading spot for most Qualcomm-powered laptops. This is the chip I’ll be using in my tests for this comparison.

Intel, meanwhile, provides integrated Arc graphics into some—though not all—Intel Core Ultra chips. Here, too, the details can vary quite a bit between chips. The least performant have four “Xe Cores” while the best have eight. Clock speeds vary, too.

Intel’s Core Ultra 7 155H, the one I’ll be using for this comparison, is a popular option for thin-and-light Windows x86 laptops, the form factor Qualcomm targets with its debut Snapdragon notebooks.. Many expensive laptops use it for their entry-level configurations, while mid-range laptops provide it as an upgrade over an Intel Core Ultra 5.

Qualcomm Adreno X1: Games that failed

Before diving into benchmarks, I want to address a major problem upfront: Most games currently make little or no effort to support Qualcomm’s hardware.

Qualcomm tried to build pre-launch hype with demonstrations of Baldur’s Gate 3 and Control, which both launch and run on a Snapdragon X laptop. However, many of the games I tried refused to launch, crashed at launch, or had instability problems that made them unplayable.

The list of game titles with such problems include many of the most popular games on Steam:

PUBG: Battlegrounds has an anti-cheat system that doesn’t currently support Qualcomm’s hardware, so the game refused to launch.

Counter-Strike 2 launched and, at first, seemed playable. However, the game frequently locked up for seconds at a time. The lock-ups seemed to be triggered by gunfire, which obviously isn’t great in a fast-paced esports shooter.

Warframe launched to the title and login screens, but opened in an oddly scaled window that made the login button unavailable. The game crashed when I resized or maximized the window.

Apex: Legends politely refused to launch. The game produced an error message stating Arm chips aren’t supported.

Diablo IV launched and I was able to enter a game, but the game froze several seconds after I started moving my character, followed by a “(Prism) Device Removal – Win10/Dx12 TQ0 RT0 DLSS0 FG0” error message.

Valheim crashed to the desktop before the game loaded to the start screen. This happened under both DirectX and Vulkan.

As I discovered in my time using the Microsoft Surface Laptop, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X delivers a stable Windows software experience straight out of the box. From web browsers to video editors, nearly everything ran without a problem. And, to my surprise, a large majority of the apps I use for everyday work already support Arm.

But PC games are a different beast. Very few PC developers bother to create Arm-compatible versions of their game. That’s when emulation tries to step in, but emulating a game is more difficult than emulating a typical desktop application.

Can Intel Arc play these titles? For the most part, yes. Games like Warframe and Counter-Strike 2 are very playable on Arc. Others, like Diablo IV and PUBG: Battlegrounds, push the definition of playable with occasional hitches or stutters, but I suspect gamers who aren’t too critical of performance will still find the experience tolerable.

The laptops used for comparison

I went beyond PCWorld’s typical benchmarks for this comparison because I’m interested in a broader overview of how Qualcomm’s Adreno X1 and Intel’s Arc compare across different games of varying age, graphical fidelity, and genre.

Because of that, I had to test a competitive laptop with Intel Arc graphics side-by-side with the Qualcomm machine. I selected the Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with an Intel Core Ultra 7 155H and I pitted it against the new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 with Qualcomm X1E-80-100.

Both laptops have (roughly) 14-inch screens, and they’re similar in size and weight so neither has innate thermal advantages. They represent many mid-to-high-end laptops with Qualcomm or Intel hardware.

The laptops were set to their respective “Best Performance” modes for these tests. I ran all benchmarks three times and averaged the results. Both laptops were connected to power.

The games tested and their results

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

Firaxis’ Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, released in 2014, is hardly a new game, but it remains among the most popular grand strategy games on Steam. It’s a great game to test because large games like this, with many AI opponents, can still tax entry-level laptops.

I tested this game with the built-in Gathering Storm expansion benchmark at 1920×1080 resolution with low Performance and Memory graphics presets selected. The benchmark ran three times back-to-back and the results were averaged. The DirectX 12 mode was used.

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Microsoft Surface Laptop with Qualcomm Adreno X1:
Avg 21.47 / 1% low 14.52

Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with Intel Arc:
Avg 72.29 / 1% low 39.52

This is a blowout win for the Intel Arc graphics, which averaged a performance uplift of roughly 3.5 times when compared to the Qualcomm Adreno X1. More importantly, Intel Arc delivered a playable and enjoyable experience, while Qualcomm Adreno X1 did not.

Interestingly, an Arm-native version of Civilization VI exists, as the game is available for both the iPad and Nintendo Switch (both have Arm chips). However, it’s not available for Windows. This implies the potential to improve performance with a native Arm release, but Firaxis hasn’t announced plans to bring it to Windows on Arm.

Dota 2

Valve’s Dota 2 remains one of the most popular esports titles on the planet. I tested its performance using the in-game replay function to standardize the results. The game was launched at 1920×1080 resolution with the Fastest detail preset, and three 60-second snapshots of performance were captured from the same replay file.

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Microsoft Surface Laptop with Qualcomm Adreno X1:
Avg 52.8 / 1% Low 17.8 / 0.1% Low 9.8

Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with Intel Arc:
Avg 106.6 / 1% Low 52.6  / 0.1% Low 38.1

This is a playable result for the Qualcomm chip, but only just. The average of 52.8 frames per second is solid, though not amazing, but the 1% lows dip into the high teens, and the 0.1% lows dip to single-digits. The game suffered occasional audio drop-outs and glitches.

Intel Arc is both quicker and more stable. Though far from a speed-demon, the Arc delivers an experience that looks and feels more polished. I think most Dota 2 players could get by with Intel Arc graphics if that was their only option.

Diablo II: Resurrected

As mentioned earlier, Diablo IV crashed on the Qualcomm chip—so I instead gave Diablo II: Resurrected a spin.

Although it appears to be a 2D game at a glance due to its fixed isometric perspective, it’s a full 3D title and can prove surprisingly demanding on low-end to mid-range hardware.

I tested the game at 1920×1080 resolution with the Medium detail preset. Dynamic resolution scaling was disabled. I booted the game up, selected a high-level character, and romped through the River of Flame map on Nightmare difficulty.

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Microsoft Surface Laptop with Qualcomm Adreno X1:
Avg 47.8 / 1% Low 26.8 / 0.1% Low 19.1

Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with Intel Arc:
Avg 74.5 / 1% Low 49.6 / 0.1% Low 27.9

Though hardly perfect, Diablo II: Resurrected was playable on the Qualcomm chip. It delivered an average of about 48 frames per second and 1% lows of 26.8 frames per second, indicating gameplay wasn’t always smooth but usually good enough. I didn’t notice any bugs or glitches in my time with the game, either.

Still, Intel Arc came out ahead by every metric. Not only was Arc’s average framerate much higher, but its framerate dips were less severe. In practice, these numbers mean Diablo II: Resurrected felt smoother and more stable on the Arc system.

Final Fantasy XIV

The popular MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV received a graphical overhaul for its new expansion Dawntrail, but it’s still not an especially demanding game when all things are considered.

I tested it with the standalone benchmark at 1920×1080 resolution and the High (Laptop) detail setting. Dynamic Resolution Scaling was off, while LOD on Distant Objects and Dynamic Grass Interaction were left on.

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Microsoft Surface Laptop with Qualcomm Adreno X1:
4474 / Avg 31.56  / Minimum: 7

Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with Intel Arc:
6111 / Avg 41.8 / Minimum: 24

The Qualcomm chip played the game reasonably well, but it often suffered momentary framerate dips that were a drag on the visuals, while Arc’s dips were relatively rare (though I would still recommend notching down a few detail settings).

This is another win for Intel Arc. While a higher average framerate is great, Arc’s real victory is its superior minimum framerate result. FFXIV fans might get by with the Qualcomm chip in a pinch, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Total War: Warhammer III

Total War: Warhammer III is a real graphical showcase for strategy fans. It has detailed campaign maps and large battles that can include thousands of units. I tested this game with the built-in campaign benchmark at 1920×1080 resolution and the Low detail preset.

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Microsoft Surface Laptop with Qualcomm Adreno X1:
Avg 24 / Minimum 16

Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with Intel Arc:
Avg 30 / Minimum 19

Intel Arc won this comparison, but the margin of victory was far slimmer than with most of the titles I tried—and it might not matter much. While Arc did average 30 FPS, the framerate frequently dipped into the 20s.

Both Intel Arc and Qualcomm Adreno require significant resolution reductions for a truly playable experience in this title.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition

Despite its age, Skyrim remains an important title for PC gaming with an active community and a huge library of modifications.

I tested the Special Edition, without mods, at 1920×1080 resolution using the High detail preset. The test run was a walk from the cave you exit at the beginning of the game to the walls of Helgen.

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Microsoft Surface Laptop with Qualcomm Adreno X1:
Avg 29.8 / 1% Low 12 / 0.1% Low 8.3

Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with Intel Arc:
Avg 59.4 / 1% Low 39.7 / 0.1% Low 30.3

This was a clear win for Intel Arc, which roughly doubled the performance of the Qualcomm chip. Skyrim felt more stable on Arc with a 0.1% low of 30.3 frames per second, while it stuttered and hitched frequently on the Qualcomm-powered Surface with a 0.1% low of 8.3 frames per second.

Cyberpunk 2077

Now we have Cyberpunk 2077, a notoriously demanding title that’s representative of cutting-edge cross-platform games.

I ran the benchmark at 1920×1080 resolution and used the Low detail preset. Resolution scaling was enabled because this game simply isn’t playable on this class of hardware without it. The Qualcomm chip used AMD FSR 2.1 while Intel Arc used Intel XeSS 1.2. Ray tracing was off.

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Microsoft Surface Laptop with Qualcomm Adreno X1:
Avg 20.69 / Minimum 14.93

Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with Intel Arc:
Avg 35.83 / Minimum 27.90

This is another win for Intel Arc. Cyberpunk 2077 is just barely playable on Arc, though, so it’s a long way from ideal. On Qualcomm, meanwhile, the game’s average and minimum framerates fall short of acceptable.

Reducing resolution to 720p and fine-tuning the settings can arguably provide a playable experience, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

3DMark

Last, but not least, is a pair of 3DMark synthetic benchmarks: Time Spy and Night Strike. Time Spy is not an Arm-native test, but Night Strike is, and that has a big impact on performance.

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Matthew Smith / IDG

Microsoft Surface Laptop with Qualcomm Adreno X1:
Time Spy 1,880 / Night Strike 24,573

Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 2-in-1 with Intel Arc:
Time Spy 3,523 / Night Strike 25,552

In Time Spy, which isn’t Arm-native, the Qualcomm Adreno X1 is leagues behind Intel Arc. But in Night Strike, which does provide an Arm-native version, the two are rather close. Arc still wins, but only by a hair.

This is a very important result. While not especially useful for gamers buying a laptop today, it hints that Qualcomm hardware could eventually end up in a much better place in due time.

Windows games designed for Arm are exceedingly rare right now, which is bad news for Qualcomm. But the Night Strike result shows that Qualcomm could make up a lot of ground if game developers begin to release updates for Windows on Arm.

Qualcomm Adreno X1 vs. Intel Arc: Conclusion

Qualcomm’s big issue is the lack of Windows on Arm among the PC game development community. Unlike other software developers—who are adopting Windows on Arm at speed—PC game developers seem unmotivated and even reluctant.

That’s understandable. Game developers already have to think about possible support for at least six platforms (Windows x86, Mac, Linux x86, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch). Adding Windows on Arm to the pile is surely a strain.

Still, the consequences are clear. Modern games simply don’t run well on Qualcomm’s chip because they generally run emulated, not natively. As a result, many titles experience hitching, stuttering, and/or extended framerate drops that drag down the experience with instability.

This could all change as game developers begin to release Arm-native versions, but I can’t predict how quickly that change will come.

So, what’s the final takeaway? If you’re looking to play PC games on an entry-level laptop today, you should choose an Intel laptop with Arc integrated graphics (or an AMD Ryzen laptop) over a Qualcomm alternative.

Kaynak

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