At CES 2013, Qualcomm has made an announcement that is likely going to set their tone for most of 2013: their new Snapdragon processors are here, and they come not only with much improved features and performance, but also with a new naming scheme. The changes are broad, and Qualcomm has tried to improve just about everything from the previous Snapdragon S4 Pro. Here are the changes that you must absolutely know about in the Snapdragon 800 and 600:
CPU Update: This is Qualcomm’s flagship system on a chip (aka SoC) is a quad-core chip that uses Qualcomm’s new Krait 400 CPU design which is designed with a 28nm process and optimized for frequencies reaching 2.3GHz. This should represent a significant jump in single-core performance that will scale up to multiple cores, for multi-threaded applications. To feed the CPU cores with a steady stream of data, Qualcomm is using faster LPDDR3 at 800MHz.
If you are not familiar with the “Krait” name, it designates Qualcomm’s custom-design core, which is compatible with the instruction set of the ARM Cortex A9 processor design. Qualcomm’s own design aims to improve a vast number of elements, which makes their core faster than the Cortex A9 design with which it is binary-compatible .
As usual, Qualcomm has worked hard to improve the CPU design across the board, by making things like branch prediction, internal communications, math computations and memory latency, better. This is just what CPU makers do, some just do it better than others. That said, I know that Qualcomm is going to be criticized for not using a ARM Cortex A15 design, even though their Krait architecture addresses some of the Arm Cortex A9 weak points. At the end of the day, I want to run some benchmarks and see what comes out of them.
GPU Update: The overall horsepower of the internal Adreno 330 graphics processor (GPU) has jumped by 100% (when compared to Adreno 320) according to Qualcomm. We’re not sure about the real-world implications yet (we need to run our own benchmarks), but this sure sounds really good. Given that raw graphics performance can typically be scaled by “just” adding more pixel pipelines, we’re optimistic that real-world numbers will reflect the jump in performance.
Additionally, the graphics processor can also take on non-graphics computing tasks via the OpenCL API (application programming interface). On PCs, things like physics, image processing or even virus detection can be done at a better performance/Watt ratio when using the GPU. The idea is that GPUs can perform specific tasks faster and with less energy than their more generalist CPU (central processor) counterparts. As a whole (CPU, GPU, video..), Qualcomm estimates that Snapdragon 800 is 75% faster than its S4 Pro predecessor. This of course, will vary greatly depending on the task at hand.
WiFi AC and 4G LTE Cat 4: with WiFi AC expected to come in full-force in 2013, Qualcomm has integrated the latest and fastest version of WiFi into their Snapdragon 800 chip. Not only the peak performance should be higher, but more importantly, the same amount of data is theoretically processed using less power, and don’t we all love that?
LTE Cat 4 is an evolution of LTE that is supposed to reach a theoretical speed of 150Mbps. Obviously, the real-world numbers should be significantly less, but we’ll take any network speed gain we can.
UltraHD (4H/UHD): you probably won’t have a 4K TV next month, but chances are that your tablet might have such a resolution. The first Android tablet to feature such a dense screen is the Google Nexus 10, but we can expect others to follow very soon. By the end of next year, we expect high-end 10″ tablets to regularly feature such a display. The Snapdragon 800 is capable of decoding movies, and more importantly, it can encode 4K videos which is a first. Wow. Now, we’d love to see a mobile camera that shoots nice 4K movies!
Talking about digital imaging, the Snapdragon S4 800 features dual image signal processors, which allows it to process 55Megapixel images. While a 55 Megapixel sensor for mobiles may not be viable, this also means that this amount of processing power can be applied to processing 3D images or other pixel-intensive image operations. Now it’s all about the apps.
The Snapdragon 800 has been shipped in small quantities to handset makers, but devices should appear only in the summer, so hang in there.
As you may expect, the Snapdragon 600 targets phone that are not designed to run as fast or have the 4K/UHD features of its 800 counterpart. Yet, a quad-core (Krait 300) chip that can be cadenced at 1.9GHz is very respectable. In fact, it would probably do really well in today’s benchmarks.
In terms of graphics, the Snapdragon 600 gets an Adreno 320 GPU, which is often used in current high-end phones. Overall, the Snapdragon 600 seems to be an optimized Snapdragon S4 pro, and matches it in many aspects. Think of it as “last year’s high-end just because faster, cheaper, better”, which pretty much embodies the while idea of how Moore’s Law benefits the electronics industry and the consumer in general.
The Snapdragon 600 is being tested by handset makers right now, and the first devices are said to land in the second quarter of 2013.
Qualcomm is setting the tone for a 2013 that will be very competitive (again). The Snapdragon 800 looks amazingly strong. Internally, Qualcomm is very confident that this will keep its competitors at bay, including NVIDIA’s Tegra 4, which just launched yesterday (context: we talked to Qualcomm before NVIDIA’s announcement) but let’s not forget that Apple, Samsung and others will also release new versions of their leading smartphone SoCs (with ARM Cortex A15 cores?), so we’re very excited both by the new Snapdragon family and the prospect that your (and our) next gadget will reach a new level of performance.