Nvidia wasn’t the only company announcing new mobile chipsets at this year’s CES. The elephant in the room, Qualcomm, decided to revamp its Snapdragon Systems-on-a-Chip (SoCs) and scrap the previous naming scheme altogether. The takeaway? Our mobile devices are going to get a lot more powerful this year. Then again, what else is new?
Last year, Nvidia had a head start with its quad-core Tegra 3 SoC. It took Qualcomm many months until it got its first quad-core chipset into a smartphone, months in which Nvidia’s Tegra 3 and Samsung’s Exynos 4 Quad were the only quad-core beasts in town. Sure, Qualcomm’s MSM8960 dual-core Krait Snapdragon S4 chipset managed to edge out in front of the quad-core competition in some benchmarks in certain situations, but people do seem to go for ‘more is better’.
This year though, things are set to change. We still don’t know when Nvidia’s Tegra 4 will be in actual shipping devices, whereas Qualcomm has announced rough time frames.
Qualcomm isn’t using S followed by a number anymore to describe its Snapdragons. So the S4 was the last of that breed. The newly introduced SoCs are the Snapdragon 800 and Snapdragon 600 series.
The 600 is set to be in devices in the second quarter of this year, and seems to be ‘just’ a slightly updated version of the quad-core S4. It will come with four cores clocked at up to 1.9 GHz, a “speed enhanced” Adreno 320 GPU (the same as in the S4, minus the “speed enhanced” part), and support for LPDDR3 memory. Qualcomm hasn’t announced if the Snapdragon 600 comes with a built-in 4G LTE modem, so it almost certainly doesn’t. In that respect it would be identical to its predecessor, the APQ8064 S4. The 600 should deliver up to 40% more performance than the S4, while consuming less power.
The true flagship chipset from Qualcomm for 2013 though is going to be the Snapdragon 800. It will be in devices sometime around the middle of the year. It will also be a quad-core part, clockable up to 2.3 GHz. It will come with Adreno 330 graphics, promising twice as much performance in that department as the Adreno 320 can deliver. The 800 will also get “industry-leading” memory bandwidth, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, USB 3.0, Bluetooth, FM radio, and 4G LTE integrated right into the chipset. This is something that Nvidia still can’t offer, not even with the Tegra 4, so it’s bound to be a huge strategic advantage for Qualcomm (since having everything on the same chip lowers costs as well as, crucially, power consumption).
Qualcomm says that the Snapdragon 800 will deliver a 75% performance boost compared to the existing S4 Pro quad-core, while the fact that it will be manufactured using an improved 28 nm process should make it quite battery friendly (no numbers here though). The Snapdragon 800 will be the first mobile chipset in the world to support 4K video recording and viewing (that’s 3,840×2,160). It will also support displays of resolutions up to 2,560×2,048 as well as 1080p Full HD output via Miracast.
With these SoCs, Qualcomm will probably have no issue in remaining the No.1 mobile chipset producer out there. Unless it will be plagued by delays, expect the 800 SoC to be the part of choice for most makers of high-end Android devices in the second half of this year (except Samsung, of course, which is continuing investments in its own Exynos line of processors).
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