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The ‘always-connected PC’ is coming, but its full cost remains unknown

PC vendors and chipmakers are eager to make your next PC an “always connected PC,” with built-in cellular connectivity ready to step in when Wi-Fi isn’t available. It all sounds great on paper, but one question remains unanswered: How much will you have to pay?

The basic premise is simple enough: Open your PC, and boom! you’re connected to a cellular data network. It worked for the original Google Chromebook Pixel, and for many corporate PC users whose employers foot the tab. But now, helped by chipmakers Qualcomm, AMD, and Intel, as well as some early partners like Asus and HP, the PC industry seems poised to bring connected PCs to mainstream consumers using an “eSIM” model that allows them to buy data from any carrier.

Qualcomm leads on always-connected PCs

The engine driving always-connected PCs, surprisingly, isn’t Intel—though Intel has begun publicly maneuvering to respond. Instead, smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm used its recent Snapdragon Technology Forum in Hawaii to explain how it plans to break with the traditional metrics of price and performance to push an alternative: connectivity and battery life.

Qualcomm plans to take the Snapdragon 835 (and, though, it didn’t announce it at the time, the Snapdragon 845 as well) and make them the foundation of a new breed of always-connected PCs. The new Snapdragon Mobile PC Platform offers all-day battery life (from about 22 hours or so of active use to a couple of days’ worth) and instant connectivity through the integrated LTE modem.

Qualcomm is betting that consumers will prefer long-lasting PCs at the cost of some performance. It’s a somewhat risky tradeoff, but one that hundreds of millions of smartphone users have already adopted.

Three PC vendors are already in: Asus announced the Asus NovaGo ultrabook at $599 and above, and HP revealed the Envy x2 Windows tablet for an undisclosed price. A Lenovo always-connected PC will be announced at CES, Qualcomm executives said.

Qualcomm executives said they expect Snapdragon PCs will be manufactured by traditional smartphone vendors as well. In some sense, that’s already happened, said Asus chief executive Jerry Shen. “Asus has a history of designing beautiful devices for both the PC and smartphone,” he said. “We are well positioned to bring to life the benefits of LTE.”

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, recalled how he didn’t plug in a Snapdragon-powered PC for a week. “I’m seamlessly connected wherever I am: at work, commuting, visiting a customer at a hotel, at the airport—I’m always connected,” he said. “It feels like the natural way to work with all of my team, all of my partners.”

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