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Qualcomm: PC games should just work on Snapdragon X Elite

Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite primary benchmarkImage: Mark Hachman / IDG

One of the biggest knocks on Windows on Arm PCs powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon chips has been how well applications run. Natively coded apps run just fine, but apps written for traditional X86 processors (read: the vast majority of PCs) have suffered.

In part, that’s because they’ve had to run via emulation, a way of translating the X86 code into instructions that can be understood by the Arm processor. Qualcomm claims that performance won’t be a problem for its upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors and the PCs they run on. But the company also unveiled a pretty major caveat to that, too.

According to The Verge, Qualcomm executives told a Game Developer Conference audience that the company believes that most of the games in Steam’s list of the most popular games should run at close to full speed on Snapdragon X Elite.

Qualcomm engineer Issam Khalil told the audience that game developers could port their games over to Arm, or they could create an Arm64EC app, a hybrid approach where Qualcomm’s drivers run natively but the rest of the app is emulated. They could also just let Windows on Arm’s emulation shoulder the load. Khalil said he believes most games are GPU-bound, meaning that the performance of the emulator won’t have a big impact.

There are some problems, though. Games with kernel-level anti-cheat drivers simply won’t work via emulation, as will games that use AVX instructions, Khalil said. The latter is the subject of a Steam discussion, which apparently includes some emulators and Ubisoft games, though others say the AVX requirements have been quietly patched out.

Games with kernel-level anticheat drivers are more problematic, potentially including Fortnite, Valorant, and Apex Legends. We have to trust the Internet and this list of over 300 games that use kernel-level anticheat technology. Again, these games could potentially need to be coded to Arm to run, eliminating the issue. But will developers make that effort?

Qualcomm promised big things when it launched the Snapdragon X Elite platform last year. And Qualcomm’s hands-off Snapdragon X Elite tests made it seem like they’ll compete just fine against Intel’s 13th-gen Core H (and presumably the very similar 14th-gen Core H, too). But emulation has always been an issue, and we’ll have to see whether or not Snapdragon X Elite PCs can truly compete, or if you’ll have to pick and choose which apps run on them.

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

Recent stories by Mark Hachman:

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