eye_snapdragon_featureAt Mobile world Congress 2014, Qualcomm is introducing two new system on chip (SoC): the Snapdragon 610 and Snapdragon 615, that are designed to capture the “Super” mid-range Android phone market, which is a category that is rising very quickly thanks to the acceleration of LTE adoption worldwide. They come in addition to the Snapdragon 410 (announced in December) which is aimed at the lower-tier of that market.

64bit + Octo-Core

Like the Snapdragon 410, the new 610 and 615 processors use 64-bit ARM A53 cores which have been designed to provide the level of performance of an ARM A9, but with a much better power-efficiency. The Snapdragon 610 is a quad-A53 while the 615 is an octo-A53 design. We know that “more cores” is not always better, but the reality is that Qualcomm’s customers will want an octo-core option, and the company is more than happy to deliver.

Qualcomm has been quite aggressive in entering this market since most competitors in that price range will max out with a quad-A53 configuration. ARM had announced is 50-Series of CPUs in 2012, so I’m glad that products will hit the shelves in 2014, or early 2015.

A drive for efficiency in every single area

Beyond the better performance, the mid-range is truly about efficiency in every single aspect. for example, if you look at cost, a better power-efficiency allows the use of smaller-capacity battery which is a big saving. An LTE Cat 4 connection is more radio-efficient and allows wireless carriers to serve more customers without having to increase the network density.

"THE LTE NETWORK EFFICIENCY IS A HUGE INCENTIVE FOR CARRIERS"This is a huge incentive for carriers to switch over to LTE as fast as possible since it is the best way to charge more, while optimizing how they use the available radio band that they purchased for Billions of dollars. The integration of the modem into the main chip reduces the bill of material and shaves a few extra steps in the final assembly.

Finally, with features like RF360, Qualcomm allows partners to cover more LTE bands and markets with each hardware designs. There are more than 40 LTE bands worldwide and it used to be that each handset could only support a few of them. Things have progressed rapidly and have gotten much better.

The cost of designing the devices and writing their software isn’t negligible either, that’s why Qualcomm has built the 410, 610 and 615 processors to be pin-compatible, which means that they can be interchanged on the same PCB (motherboard) to expand or contract the processing power of a given design. The software is also completely compatible between them, which makes it easy for hardware partner to launch a whole line of products that cover a wide price range, or to start working today (with the 410) on future designs, knowing that things will “just work” later.

DirectX 11.2 GPU

Last but certainly not least, thanks to the Adreno 405 graphics unit (GPU), the Snapdragon 610 and 615 SoCs support DirectX 11.2 and OpenGL ES 3.0 says Qualcomm. While ES 3.0 isn’t all that exciting, DirectX 11.2 is and this is a great hint that Microsoft is about to unify its graphics API on ARM and Intel platforms, which means that the odds of having Windows games ports to ARM-based devices will increase by a good margin. Interestingly, this would hint to more ARM-based Windows system coming out, even though Intel’s Bay Trail has created some serious turbulence for Windows RT (Windows for ARM)."DIRECTX 11.2 SUPPORT MEANS ONLY ONE THING: MORE ARM-BASED WINDOWS DEVICES"

The 610 and 615 chips seem to be able to support a full OpenGL distribution, it looks like Qualcomm won’t include it for now. I hope that it will happen at some point because that would allow a number of PC or Mac games to be ported more easily, without having to port the graphics engine to OpenGL ES 3.0. For now, the NVIDIA Tegra K1 remains the only ARM-based chip that can run the full version of Unreal Engine 4, and it would be nice for game developers if the Qualcomm ecosystem was to have a full OpenGL release as well.

Adreno 405 supports up to Quad-HD (2560×1600) and feature support for H.265, the latest video compression standard that has been developed to be 4K-friendly. Without the extra compression that it brings, it would be very impractical to commercialize 4K video content since it wouldn’t fit on BluRay discs or be too large for streaming. In my opinion, the Adreno 405 GPU could be one of the great differentiator for Qualcomm, given that competitors have access to the same A53 CPU cores.

Available in Q4 2014

This is all pretty exciting, but you will have to be patient since handset using these new chips won’t appear until late this year or in early 2015. Qualcomm says that the chipsets will be “available in Q4 2014”, and given that most handsets are launched in October/November, this probably means that a few will be able to launch in 2014, while the bulk will launch in 2015.

The good news is that hardware partners can work right now using the Snapdragon 410 chip and replace it with a 610 or 615 down the road. This also opens the possibility for handset makers to create one design and let customers choose between 4 or 8 cores.

Transparency: Our trip from San Francisco to Barcelona is partially arranged by Qualcomm, along with other media. Many news outlet don’t disclose this, but we do. More about our travel policy.

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