Qualcomm unveils quad-core Snapdragon chipset for tablets

BARCELONA, Spain--Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) unveiled the next generation of its flagship Snapdragon application processor, an announcement that highlighted a slew of chipset product announcements here at the Mobile World Congress trade show.

Qualcomm said its new chipset family, codenamed Krait, will include multiple levels of performance and will be targeted at different market segments. Qualcomm unveiled a single-core chip, the MSM8930; a dual-core processor, the MSM8960; and a quad-core processor for the high end of the market, the APQ8064. All of the chips will be on 28nm silicon and will integrate support for Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and FM, as well as Near Field Communications, stereoscopic 3D and video and photo capture and playback.

The quad-core processor will enable speeds of up to 2.5 GHz per core and will be targeted at high-end tablets. The dual-core solution will have an integrated 3G/LTE modem and the single-core solution will integrate LTE, which Qualcomm hopes will take LTE handsets mainstream.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Alex Katouzian, vice president of product management for Qualcomm's CDMA Technologies unit, said that for the most part on mobile devices right now, applications are single-threaded and do not require dual-core or quad-core processors.  Therefore, he said that Qualcomm has spent a lot of energy optimizing single-core processors for what he called an "uncomprimised" experience. However, he said that applications and software will drive Qualcomm and other chipset makers to continually raise the bar in hardware performance.

Katouzian said Qualcomm's quad-core processor will help optimize Web browsing on tablets, gaming and applications with 3D graphics and other multi-threaded applications. He said that Qualcomm's ability to offer a range of products for different market tiers, along with its ability to integrate modem technology, will set it apart from its competitors. By year-end, he said Qualcomm will chip 20-30 commercial products with dual-core processors and a small number of quad-core products.

"The merging of computing and wireless technology is going to push us even more right now," he said. "Our concentration will shift from adding more cores to adding more efficiencies."  

However, Qualcomm is not alone in the chipset arms race. Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 processor is popping up in numerous tablets running version 3.0, or Honeycomb, of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform. Additionally, last week Texas Instruments unveiled its OMAP 5 processor, which has dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processors running at 2 GHz. Brian Carlson, TI's OMAP product line manager, told FierceWireless that the chipset will deliver 50 percent more performance per processor clock, enabling, for example, Web browsing with 60 percent less power consumption.

Furthermore, the battle over dual-core processors is somewhat of a semantic and marketing one. As Katouzian noted, a dual-core 1 GHz processor is theoretically capable of 2 GHz of processing power. However, because applications are not run simultaneously and in parallel on both cores, and the application processing is shared between the cores, the actual performance is around 1.5 GHz or less. This sentiment was echoed by Carlson as well as Thomas Chun, Samsung's senior manager for product management and strategy. 

For more:
- see these three Qualcomm releases

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