Qualcomm will compete with Apple’s M1 chips, just not now

The Snapdragon company will release a PC alternative to the M1 in 2023, three full years after Apple started shipping its chips.

Last updated:

Apple has generated headline after headline ever since the first M1-powered MacBooks hit the market back in 2020. The company is now widely regarded as one of the best chip manufacturers in the industry, delivering nothing short of impressive speeds and efficiency on its laptops thanks to its custom silicon. Meanwhile, competitors like Intel and Qualcomm have scrambled to offer meaningful improvements compared to what they offered the year prior.

That may soon change, at least for Qualcomm. The company confirmed that it intends to release a proper competitor to Apple’s M1 series for PCs that will deliver on fronts like performance and energy consumption, but it doesn’t plan to release it until 2023.

Qualcomm held an investors event today, and it went over its plans to deliver a processor that will “set the performance benchmark for Windows PCs” moving forward. According to Dr. James Thompson, Chief Technology Officer, the chip will be designed in collaboration with the team behind Nuvia, a company that Qualcomm acquired for $1.4 billion which was founded by three ex-Apple engineers. These engineers worked on Apple’s A-series chips for iPhones and iPads, so they know a thing or two about designing a fast chip without sacrificing battery.

The new chip from Qualcomm will be ARM-based like the M1 series and is targeting “sustained performance and battery life.” It’ll also double-down on graphics performance, which is important if it wants a chance at taking shots at the M1 Pro and M1 Max.

In addition, this new chip will also power other mobile devices, data centers, and automobiles in the future.

The only real issue is Qualcomm’s timing. The company says the chip will start rolling out in consumer devices in 2023, which is understandable given how they’ve just begun working on it under new CEO Cristiano Amon. However, by then, Apple will have had three years of market presence, enough time to drive adopt rates and get their chips into more products.

Qualcomm’s past ARM-powered PC chip attempts have been disappointing, to say the least. Its Snapdragon 8cx processor was slow and didn’t do all that much for battery life, while the SQ1 and SQ2 chips it built with Microsoft for the Surface Pro X limited app compatibility and suffered from similar performance and endurance restraints. If Qualcomm wants to match Apple’s incredible level of performance per watt, it’ll have to reinvent a few of its own wheels.

Whether the company is up for the challenge remains unclear. That $1.4 billion buyout of Nuvia seems to indicate the company is as serious as it can be about this initiative, and it’s no secret that it’ll have to do something fast if it doesn’t want to lose to Apple at its own game. It’ll be interesting to see what it can cook up in its battle against one of its oldest foes.