Lenovo IdeaPad 4G 14Q8C05 Windows on ARM laptop review
Windows on ARM is Microsoft's adventure into moving its operating system and its ecosystem to a different CPU architecture. Previous attempts like Windows RT failed so it begs the question will
Windows on ARM succeed? Let us check how Lenovo IdeaPad 4G 14Q8C05 laptop with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8c ARM SoC runs Windows 11 on ARM.
- CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8c (SC8180) - 4+4 Kryo 490 cores running up to 2.45/1.8 GHz (4 ARM Cortex-A76 performance and 4 ARM Cortex-A55 efficiency cores)
- iGPU: Adreno 675 / 680
- Memory: 8GB LPDDR4x soldered, not user upgradable
- Storage: 2280 M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 slot; 256GB stock SSD
- Display: 14", 1080p, IPS, mat, 300 nits, anti-glare 100% sRGB
- Network: WiFi 5ac, Bluetooth 5.0, Qualcomm QGM8180X 4G LTE CAT20 modem
- I/O: 1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Always On), 2x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (support data transfer, Power Delivery 3.0, and DisplayPort™ 1.4), 1x Nano-SIM card slot, 1x Headphone/microphone combo jack (3.5mm)
- Webcam: 720p, IR
- Battery: 51Wh, battery life - 20h local video playback at 150 nits. 45W USB-C charger
- Weight: 1.2kg, aluminium top, PC+ABS bottom
Lenovo IdeaPad 4G and 5G models are available only in some regions or even select countries. ThinkPad X13s with a newer Snapdragon SoC is more widely available though.
When it comes to pricing we get into some sort of chaos. I bought my unit for 251 EUR from notebooksbilliger.de while it was discounted by 57%! As of the time of writing this review, IdeaPad 4G is sold out in that store and the list price is 699 EUR. Other stores list it at 361 EUR (Idealo), and 845 EUR (Kaufland) but mostly sold out.
The slightly updated IdeaPad 5G models are priced from 499 EUR up to 800-900 EUR range. Both models see a big price range and German stores seem to be having frequent sales of them where the prices go way down like in my case.
Qualcomm likes to refresh their SoCs with minor tweaks, modem changes, and the like. Snapdragon 8c, cx gen 1 and 2 are just small clock and modem changes. 8cx gen 3 is pretty much a new SoC, superior to the previous ones of its generation.
- Snapdragon 8c: TSMC 7nm , Cortex-A76 and Cortex-A55 cores (2.45, 1.8GHz)
- Snapdragon 8cx: clock bump of 8c, 2.84, 1.8GHz
- Microsoft SQ 1: clock bump of Snapdragon 8cx
- Snapdragon 8cx gen 2: clock bump of 8cx (3.15/1.8 GHz)
- Microsoft SQ 2: slight clock bump of 8cx gen 2
- Snapdragon 8cx gen 3: 5nm LPE Samsung, 1 Kryo 680 prime core (3 GHz, Cortex-X1), 3 Kryo 680 Gold (2.42 GHz, Cortex-A78) and 4 Kryo Silver cores (1.8 GHz, Cortex-A55)
The laptop looks and feels well-built. The chassis is a mix of aluminum at the top and aluminum-alike plastic parts on the palm rest and bottom cover. The keyboard is backlighted with few levels of brightness. Compared to a similar 14" Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14ARE05 with Ryzen 4800U the typing experience is somewhat better. There is no deck flex but also it feels like there are some rubber rings/cushions around the keys to limit noise while also giving a nice typing experience.
The screen is a typical laptop mat one with a bit of graininess visible. The colors and brightness however do look good and definitely avoids cheap dim panels quite common in even premium laptops. However, this is not OLED or glossy display so you won't get that extra colors and brightness.
Speakers are pretty ok. Nothing spectacular as usual but they get the job done and are up-firing from the sides of the keyboard which is a nice plus over common down-firing from below the laptop. They can get pretty loud and then you can feel the vibrations on the palmrest which isn't ideal (unless you are vibing hard). Also at max volume, some frequencies can get clipped.
The back of the laptop is held by five Torx T4 screws which aren't your typical Philips-type screws. Once you get them out you can access the laptop components. RAM is not upgradable but the M.2 storage is. I'm planning to do a separate test with installing Windows and Linux from scratch on a new drive to see if there are no issues with that (and if you can install Linux at all).
Snapdragon 8c performance is way behind current low-power Intel or more so AMD mobile chips. On top of that, it's a 7W so a lower power class than for example Ryzen 6800U which is a 15-28W part. Snapdragon-based laptops are fanless while pretty much every AMD/Intel one will have active cooling (unless it's some low-end, low-power part).
The second problem is benchmarking on Windows on ARM itself. Most Windows applications do not have a native AARCH64 version so they run through an emulation layer which impacts performance.
For the comparison benchmarks I used two other laptops and a mac mini:
- Lenovo IdeaPad 4G 14Q8C05: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8c
- Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14ARE05: Ryzen 4800U, Vega 8. SoC power usage: 24,6W, 2x8GB 1Rx16 RAM
- HP 15-dw3000ni: i7-1165G7, Intel Xe graphics 96EU. SoC power usage: 17,2W, 2x8GB 1Rx8 RAM
- Mac Mini: M1, 16GB RAM, 8 core GPU
- Motorola moto g200: Snapdragon 888+, 8GB RAM, design similar to 8cx gen 3
Geekbench supports WoA and thus the results won't be impacted by the emulation process. It can however test only the CPU. Single-core score is around 581 while the multi-core score is around 2453. Multiple runs give very similar results and the performance does not seem to drop when on the battery power.
GFXBench is a GPU synthetic benchmark with support for WoA. The test is rather simple but at the same time capable of testing weaker integrated graphics. On Windows DX12 version was used, Vulkan on the Motorola phone, and Metal on Apple M1.
WebXPRT 4 is an in-browser benchmark testing performance in various tasks done in a browser. For Windows, the tests were done with MS Edge while on macOS Safari was used. Motorola was running Android and used the Chrome browser.
Snapdragon 888+ in a phone shows that the newer SoC design as well as Samsung 5nm LPE node can give good CPU performance however thermals and/or storage (or Android) hold it back when it comes to GPU or in-browser benchmarks. 888+ is similar to 8cx gen 3 available now in a few laptops as well as in Microsoft nettop from Project Volterra.
Snapdragon 8c offers half single and pretty much half multi-core performance as 8-core Ryzen 4800U or quad-core Intel 1165G7. Those chips use more power, and use an active cooling solution but also deliver when it comes to a laptop chip. Without discounts on the ARM laptops, those two are also cheaper (and replaced by newer chips as well). So it all comes down to if you explicitly want a fanless device for your specific use cases it can handle (and when Android or Apple tablets, Chromebooks fail).
You can check my World of Warcraft benchmarks for this laptop as this game does have a native AARCH64 version. Overall the performance is way behind Intel Xe or AMD Vega 8 integrated graphics, not to mention Apple M1. Yet on low settings, it can handle WoW Classic and some light activities in the current expansion while being a fanless device.
Windows 10 allows WoA devices to emulate and run 32-bit x86 applications. Windows 11 expanded that to 64-bit x86 applications. Obviously, this is only a partial solution as it does take a toll on the performance of a given application.
Final Fantasy XIV benchmark crashes when trying to run it. Skyrim does run although some UI elements behave weirdly (like wait/sleep timer self-scrolls to max value constantly).
The original 32-bit Skyrim at 1080p low settings reaches around 44 FPS (widefield view of the marshes near Morthal). The 64-bit Skyrim Special Edition reaches only 22 FPS (while Ryzen 4800U gets 39 FPS). There are some differences in how 32 and 64-bit applications are emulated on WoA but also the Skyrim versions likely differ in settings or assets used at the lowest quality preset. I'll try to add some more similar tests later on.
I'm planning a follow-up article where I will go over popular Windows applications and check/test if and how they work on this WoA device. It's rather obvious that a lot of software vendors do not provide a native ARM version of their applications. The amount of devices and userbase is really small and the chips on their own provide very limited performances whereas Apple designs offered noticeable performance uplifts over their Intel predecessors.
The laptop as a device is really good. I like the keyboard and overall experience when using the device. I got it because it was really cheap and I wanted to experiment with a somewhat modern WoA device as well as have a lightweight device to carry around to work as a personal PC rather than the main workstation PC. If it had slightly more capabilities (more RAM, a bit better CPU) and would run Linux it could even be my main device. Even when Microsoft released their
Project Volterra nettop with Snapdragon 8cx gen 3 a lot of people were asking
does it run Linux? - as it has the RAM, the storage, and a better CPU. Even though Windows has WSL - Windows Subsystem for Linux, I'm still not there to switch to Windows and use that.
Qualcomm WoA devices seem to be priced really high while providing little value, at least when it comes down to performance and capabilities (lack of native applications). There are some cheaper Snapdragon 7 devices with 4 or 8GB of RAM but those are even more behind than the 8c family. With the Nuvia acquisition, Qualcomm promised high-performance SoCs for late 2023 but given the current lawsuit and some sort of the change in narrative, it's not so certain if we ever will see a competitive SoC for WoA devices. Rockchip or Mediatek could join now that Qualcomm does not have exclusivity but still with current ARM-the-company actions it's uncertain if any vendor will spend large sums of money on engineers and designs of a custom ARM SoC that could rival AMD or Apple while having currently a fraction of the market.
There are some Chromebook ARM chips out there but they are for cheaper devices - it could open WoA to cheaper segments and compete with Intel Pentium, Celeron, or AMD Athlon's lowest-end devices.
If WoA wants to compete with mainstream and high-end x86 ultraportables as well as Apple it has to provide way more than what it has now. Project Volterra must improve software availability but we also have to have chips comparable to at least Apple M1 or Ryzen 6800U - capable of doing work like video editing, light to medium-level gaming, and more.
The Snapdragon 8cx gen 3 seems to be in the right place when it comes to performance improvements but pricing on current devices is rather way too high. It starts at around 1700 EUR for a 16GB model. Ryzen 6800U/HS device will not have WoA limitations (and way better iGPU) while a Macbook Air will be in its own class as well.
Also current marketing for those devices, counting how many days without a charge the device can run is getting into similar territory as the megapixels race in cameras some time ago. You already can get 10+ hours of battery life from AMD Advantage gaming laptops, not to mention properly designed ultraportables. Putting an even lower power SoC and claiming it can do 2 days is
ok but after some battery life value people don't care, especially if it doesn't deliver in other aspects or is priced high on top of it.
As for the ARM architecture itself - note that power efficiency or some unique performance capabilities aren't inherent to ARM ISA but rather to a given design. Apple managed to design an ARM SoC that is vastly superior to any existing ARM SoC and beat stagnant at the time Intel. Current AMD mobile Ryzen CPUs are quite close while being made on an older node. To some extent having your entire OS and third-party applications move to a new architecture can help with some level of software optimization though.