Are smartphone processors powerful enough to replace the Intel and AMD chips in our computers? The time has come to answer this question. After equipping tens of millions of terminals around the world, the ARM chip giant, Qualcomm, and its adventure partner Microsoft have decided to (re) give these chips a different shot from our traditional processors.
HP is there to design a hybrid PC with the look of Microsoft Surface, a high-end tablet that can be connected to a luxury case with a keyboard. The promise of the device? Record autonomy and a permanent 4G connection to never hang up on the network.
A telephone processor in a computer
The great originality of this HP Envy X2 is therefore its Snapdragon 835 processor, an ARM chip that replaces, for the first time in Windows 10 history, the traditional processors designed under x86 architecture from Intel and AMD. This is not Microsoft’s first foray into the world of ARM processors. We remember the famous Windows RT, an ARM version of Windows 8 that fizzled out due to poor performance and a lack of compatible applications.
The Snapdragon 835 processor is much more powerful than the Tegra 3 used at the time by devices running Windows RT: you only have to see the speed of today’s Android terminals – and the beauty of the games – to get an idea! The real challenge of Qualcomm’s ARM chip installed in this hybrid PC is to compete with Intel chips in their own software universe.
Efficient 32-bit code emulation
In our practices, apart from video games (read at the end of the article), we did not have to suffer from software incompatibilities on x86 / 32bit programs. If the application is not available in a compiled version for ARM such as VLC or Netflix, Windows and the Snapdragon 835 take care of emulating the code. However, the machine is far from swift: emulation sometimes causes heavy slowdowns – as with Firefox for example. But it is this emulation that ensures that your favorite exotic program (Ant Renamer in my case) still works. A radical change from Windows RT, the repository of which was as empty as a human brain when faced with certain entertainment programs.
From Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro in one click
Basically, our review device (British version, reference HP ENVY x2 12-e001na) came with Windows 10 S. With a click and a restart, the device went into Windows 10 Pro mode. A mandatory passage to take advantage of the full emulation. Windows 10 S can only run x86 / 32bit apps, only Windows 10 Pro can run 64 bit apps. Be careful, we are not talking about emulation: the Snapdragon 835 does not seem to be able to emulate x64 code. But with the lareview update to the development kits announced by Microsoft at the Build 2018 conference last May, developers can now compile their applications in 64-bit ARM with a single click – a few check boxes and parameters to add when compiling programs with Microsoft tools.
Ultra nomad target, disappointing autonomy
To find out who is targeting such a machine, we must first highlight what it offers more than Intel / AMD machines. Two things: an active 4G connectivity in standby which allows e-mails to be picked up even when the machine is switched off, and a range far superior to that offered by competing machines of equivalent format … finally, on paper.
Because if this first generation of machines equipped with SnapDragon 835 promises up to 20 hours of autonomy in video playback, in fact, we are far from the mark. Far from it: our video playback review procedure is carried out with maximum screen brightness – this 12 inch screen of 1920 x 1280 pixels shines brightly with an average maximum of 450 cd / cm² – and the result is overwhelming with only 7.15 a.m. Even with a screen calibrated at 200 cd / cm², as is the case for our standardized review of versatile autonomy (web browsing, image manipulation, a little calculation, etc.), endurance remains disappointing with only 8:01.
In real life, we were able to use the device for a little over ten hours (surfing, video) before having to go through the recharging box. The catch of the reviews which abound on the Web and which announce 15 hours of endurance? The screen brightness generally limited to 150 cd / m². If the HP Envy X2 with SnapDragon remains generally enduring, it is far from “classic” notebooks like the excellent Dell XPS 13 Full HD (and its 12.54 hours!).
So, will the ultranomades be convinced? If receiving e-mail in standby and good autonomy in video are the only prerequisites, why not? Especially since the “Surface” format of the machine can please – it is not my cup of tea at all, but it is a very subjective perception.
In addition, the product is beautifully constructed, which gives it a statutory character. But if you take those parameters out and talk to a mobile worker who has to be really productive, you’re still a long way off. A Full HD XPS13 is much more efficient, more enduring and more suited to work with its integrated keyboard than the Envy X2 … especially since the latter only has a 3.5 mm jack and a single USB socket. C to do everything (power, USB, HDMI, etc.). You cannot quickly connect a USB stick or a TV without an adapter. The adapter is not delivered of course.
Disappointing performance, under-equipped machine
Let’s start by clarifying that the version of the HP Envy X2 that we reviewed only shipped 4 GB of RAM and only 128 GB of hard drive. An amount of RAM often too small for conventional configurations based on Intel / AMD processors. The choice of Qualcomm not to send us its best equipped model is questionable but allows us to reiterate our warnings: a Windows 10 PC needs 8 GB of RAM to behave smoothly in office + Web situations, mainly because of websites that consume a lot of memory (thanks to the video, the scripts, etc.). This lack of RAM amplifies the feelings of slowness of the platform which is not yet at the level of Intel Core M.
We feel that we are almost there, but Qualcomm still has to pass a final level of power – through a new platform or intense software work – so that its Snapdragon platform can ensure performance sufficient basics under Windows.
Browser: Microsoft Edge first
The Always Connected PCs are machines worn by Qualcomm and Microsoft. As such, it has optimized its Edge browser and it is the one that runs the fasreview. From far away: when its launch is almost instantaneous, Firefox grabs up to 7-8 seconds (it can annoy).
Why is it important? Quite simply because the Envy X2 is, by its connected nature and its tablet format, a machine that relies a lot on the browser, as much for services (emails, social networks, etc.) as for working software. With a low storage space (128 GB), and a permanent 4G connection, it is not foolish to work in the cloud through an Office 365 suite or Google G Suite. And in this area, experience is the most fluid with Edge. A word to the wise.
With its “always connected” promise thanks to 4G and its “Surface” format, this HP Envy X2 does not target an audience of gamers. But even the big hard workers are entitled to their break from time to time and we still tried to play … Attempt is the word: an old title like Plants Vs Zombies (Steam) starts but oars, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition (GOG) doesn’t start at all, tomb Raider (the 2013 reboot, Steam) either. Legend of Grimrock (GOG) offers a good start and nice graphic effects but the rendering engine displays bugs that make the title unplayable. We were able to play a recent 2D game (Insanity blade, Steam) convincingly and other titles should work. But it’s case by case. Suffice to say that we will even avoid casual gaming for the moment. The time for drivers to improve, because for most non-3D titles, it’s more a question of drivers than power.