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Gaming on Snapdragon X: Can it run Crysis?

It might be a meme, but can Window's new AI super-resolution tech make it a reality?

Published onJune 21, 2024

Snapdragon X benchmarks can it run crysis
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

With mobile smarts ramped up to suit a powerhouse PC form factor, Snapdragon X processors are an interesting prospect for mobile and laptop aficionados alike. I’m lucky enough to have my hands on the new Microsoft Surface Laptop, complete with the Snapdragon X Elite (1xE80100) onboard, and I couldn’t resist seeing if this chip could handle a little bit of AAA gaming (off the clock, of course, boss).

As a parent of two, my Steam library needed a little dusting off, but it’s not like Qualcomm is positioning the Snapdragon X platform at hardcore gamers anyway. Its Adreno X1 GPU is still an integrated component, after all, with a lowly 3.8TFLOPS of compute on this model that puts it well behind discrete mobile cards, let alone beefy desktop GPUs. Instead, Copilot Plus PCs are marketed for their AI smarts and battery life. Still, between modern classics including GTA V, Hitman 3, Crysis Remastered, and The Witcher 3, I feel like I have a reasonable sample of games you might be tempted to boot up on the go. Let’s find out if they can actually run.

Before we jump into the benchmark results, there are some important things to note. First, all of these games (and, in fact, anything you run through Steam or other launchers) are currently compiled for x64 processors (see AMD and Intel), not Arm (see Snapdragon X). That means Windows secretly spins up its Prism emulation layer to get these games running, which incurs a performance penalty. How much? We’ll just have to see.

Secondly, I spotted that some of these games ran with Windows’ “Automatic Super Resolution” (Auto SR) enabled by default. This new feature is exclusive to Copilot Plus PCs, leveraging their NPU capabilities to upscale low-resolution rendering for better performance. We’ll discuss this a bit more later on, but the key thing to note is that it lowers the output resolution on the Surface Laptop I’m using to just 1,152 x 768.

Snapdragon X Elite gaming benchmarks

My expectations for the Adreno X1 GPU are firmly in check, so I started by setting all these games to medium graphics settings. GTA V and Witcher 3 have SSAO enabled, but I declined anti-aliasing and ray tracing in every game where possible in favor of extra frames. The results below track the minimum and average frame rates across these game’s benchmark apps (and a fairly brisk run around some enemies in The Witcher 3). First, let’s run the tests at the Surface Laptop’s native 2,496 x 1,664 resolution (or as close as possible in the case of the Crysis benchmark).

Snapdragon X Elite Gaming Benchmarks High Res
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

As you might have expected, the results are not great even with medium settings. Crysis hobbles the Adreno X1 at this resolution, with an average FPS of just 19. Grim. Hitman is barely any better, with low average and minimum frame rates that make it a choppy mess to play. The Witcher 3 is slightly more playable but dips below 30fps far too regularly to be enjoyable. Likewise, GTA V has a much higher average frame rate, but the game grinds to a slideshow when heavy physics is employed. Clear, AMD and NVIDIA aren’t going to lose any sleep over the Snapdragon X Elite.

Auto SR is a Copilot Plus PC's secret weapon to run AAA games on low-power graphics.

At native resolutions, frame rates are a pretty dismal sub-30fps affair that’s headache-inducing to play for more than a few minutes. However, Copilot Plus PCs have a trick up their sleeve — Auto SR. This runs at a very low resolution, making it a bit backward compared to rival technologies that are regularly employed to output 4K. Obviously, a low resolution will run much better than the native display pixel count, so I ran all the games again at 1,152 x 768 (or 720p if that wasn’t a supported option) and then re-ran them with this AI-powered super-resolution scaling technology enabled.

Snapdragon X Elite Gaming Benchmarks Low Res
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

So can the Snapdragon X Elite run Crysis? Unfortunately, Windows’ super-resolution feature doesn’t support Crysis, so there’s no benefit to be had here, much to my immeasurable disappointment. Still, it technically runs, and at an OK 41fps average at 720p, which is no doubt faster than when I played the original on my beloved ATi X1950 Pro. You’ll have to settle for low settings if you want something approaching a silky smooth frame rate, but the game runs passably on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite even without Auto SR support. Not terrible.

Of course, the other games in our list benefited from dropping the resolution back too, hitting frame rates above 30fps and in some instances closer to 60fps. Still, flicking the AI Auto SR switch yields even more frames. Well, at least most of the time.

Auto SR can provide a substantial boost to both minimum and average FPS.

GTA V sees the smallest change to its average frame rate, which sits well above 60fps anyway. However, minimum fps leap up by 46%, making for a smoother ride, but it’s still hampered by CPU-dependent scenes. Conversely, the more GPU-intensive Witcher 3 sees little change to its minimum fps but a 30% boost to its average frame rate, taking it up to the comfortable 60fps mark. Hitman 3 is more of a mixed bag. The Dubai benchmark sees a whopping 60%-odd gain to its minimum and average fps by turning to this AI upscaling technology, which again makes the game far more playable than by just dropping the resolution alone.

Now, I ran both Hitman tests because Dartmoor is incredibly physics-heavy, stressing any decent CPU and applying even more pressure when running under emulation here. This explains the super low minimum fps results we see regardless of whether super-resolution is enabled or not. So, Auto SR clearly helps out in GPU-bound instances, but it can’t improve frame rates for CPU-bound scenes. Still, Hitman runs pretty well in real gameplay when using AI upscaling.

AI Super Resolution to the rescue?

Windows Automatic Super Resolution Settings menu
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Windows’ not much talked-about Automatic Super-Resolution feature is a bit of a silver bullet for Copilot Plus PCs — and their Snapdragon X chips inside. Flip the switch, and these laptops feel like much more capable gamers than they first appear. While obviously still not able to deliver truly high-end graphics options, frame rates, or native resolutions, it’s a brilliant addition for sneaking in a game on the go. Leaping from sub-30 to 45-60fps makes a world of difference to playability and turns your sensible work laptop into something a little more fun.

So how does it work? According to Microsoft, “Auto SR functions by automatically lowering the game’s rendering resolution to increase framerate, then employs sophisticated AI technology to provide enhanced high-definition visuals.” With that in mind, it helps to think of this as NVIDIA’s DLSS or AMD’s FSR in reverse. It’s more like a cross between variable rate shading and AI-enhanced super resolutions details.

See, Windows Auto SR doesn’t upscale a game to match a high-resolution display. In fact, you have to settle for a resolution that’s far below typical modern gaming targets of 1440p and 4K. There’s no getting around the fact that 1,152 x 768 doesn’t look particularly sharp, even on the Surface Pro’s modest 15-inch screen. Aliasing artifacts are abundant and you’ll have to give up some of those valuable frames you just clawed back if you want rid of them.

Auto SR is the inverse of NVIDIA's DLSS. It runs at a low resolution and bumps down even lower to improve fps.

Instead, what I believe is happening is that the rendering resolution is sometimes even lower than 1,152 x 768. AI is used to scale up these frames so you can’t see the difference, which explains why this technique is quite good at improving minimum fps values in GPU-bound games. I suspect the overall low resolution is ultimately a limitation of the 45TOPS of NPU power found in Copilot Plus PCs. NVIDIA’s DLSS, for instance, runs on much more powerful hardware to reach 4K. To Microsoft’s credit, I really couldn’t tell if or when this was happening. Every still I captured looked the same with AI on or off and it’s even harder to make out any changes that happen during motion.

That said, Auto SR exacerbates jankiness when frame rates fall very low. This was readily apparent in the Dartmoor benchmark; several runs temporarily slipped into a Matrix-style Deja Vu. Despite the higher frame rates, I’m not convinced any of these titles felt buttery smooth with Auto SR enabled. It also makes text distort into drunken fonts, which can give the appearance of a goofy SNES emulator upscaler.

Still, running graphics upscaling on a chip’s dedicated NPU (necessary to be classed as a Copilot Plus PC) is an inspired idea, as it doesn’t steal many, if any resources from the GPU. In this instance, Auto SR leverages Qualcomm’s Hexagon NPU that sits alongside the Adreno X1 GPU inside the Snapdragon X chipset, but this technique should work on future AMD and Intel PCs with integrated NPUs too. To be honest, I’m surprised we haven’t seen something similar in the Android gaming space, given the hardware is already there and pixel requirements are much lower.

You can find a list of Auto SR compatible titles at this link, which includes newer titles like Cyberpunk and The Last of Us. I can’t be sure these demanding titles will run quite as well without testing them, but they should still see some benefit. Unfortunately, not every game supports or even works well with Automatic Super-Resolution enabled. GTA V, for example, ships with super-resolution off by default, and while enabling it drastically improves the frame rate, menus and UI elements flicker and sometimes black box completely. On the other hand, Crysis Remastered and many other games don’t support the feature at all, so this certainly isn’t the cure-all for gaming on Arm-based PCs. The experience is not completely ready for prime time, much like Windows Recall.

Equally, I’m not entirely convinced by the decision to have this enabled by default for some games. It deprives gamers of balancing resolution and graphics settings themselves. The fact that the setting is hidden away in the new “Display > Graphics” menu also means yet another panel for gamers to faff with before they can just get playing. Though Windows does display a nice prompt to let you know Auto SR is working when you boot up the game.

Still, who can turn their nose up at free extra frames? Auto SR can’t disguise Snapdragon X as a serious rival to a proper gaming laptop, but it does mean that Copilot Plus PCs can dabble in a little light gaming without framerates that’ll tank your W/L ratio.

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