If you thought the dual-core Tegra 2 was impressive, wait until you get a load of the bombshell that Qualcomm, another top ARM processor maker, dropped at Mobile World Conference 2011.
I. I Want to go Fast
Qualcomm has announced its next generation Snapdragon architecture [press release]. The architecture finally drops the "Scorpion" core code-name held for two generations. The new cores are dubbed "Krait", a named derived from a genus of venomous snake species that reside in Southeast Asia.
They are built on a 28 nm process and Qualcomm claims it will be shipping single core chips clocked at 2.5 GHz. While you wrap your brain around what a near-desktop speed smart phone CPU might be like, get this -- the cores will be available in single, dual, and quad-core variants.
The chips will also get next generation Adreno GPUs. Currently Qualcomm is preparing to roll out chips powered by the Adreno 220, which will be starting to flood the market this year replacing the Adreno 205. The hardware maker promises "console-like" graphics, at least on the highest end models.
The entire package is expected to bump performance in excess of 150 percent, while cutting power consumption by 65 percent.
The chips will also have some slick connectivity options. They will have an onboard LTE modem, which Qualcomm claims will be an industry first. For those unfamiliar, LTE is the 4G wireless communications technology embraced by many carriers worldwide, including America's two largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T.
The new Snapdragons also include support for Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and FM. And they support stereoscopic 3D (S3D) video and picture taking. They also support near field communication (NFC). For those unfamiliar with NFC, it’s a super-short range communications mode that operates between a device and a reader within 4 cm of it. Using NFC, cell phones can act as electronic boarding passes or credit cards, being swiped across the detector device.
II. The Product
The single-core design's product name is MSM8930. Despite the high clock speed (2.5 GHz), it is clearly targeted at the smart phone arena. It features a new Adreno 305 GPU that is 6 times more powerful than the Adreno 130, or roughly 50 percent faster than current generation chips.
Next up is an asynchronous dual-core chip, the MSM8960. It features a snazzier Adreno 225 GPU, which offers eight times the Adreno 130's baseline performance. It will also support dual-channel LP DDR memory. This will finally offer some justification bandwidth-wise for bumping the memory footprint on smart phones up to 1 GB or higher. Speaking of which, that's the primary market for the MSM8690 -- smart phones -- though it may show up in tablets as well.
The real powerhouse of the series is the APQ8064. It is Qualcomm's first quad-core ARM Snapdragon chip. It will pack four GPU cores in a configuration dubbed the Adreno 320, which offers 16 times the performance of the Adreno 130. It's primarily targeted at "large-screen devices" like tablets or laptops. It reportedly will feature 15 times the performance of the original Adreno 130. Qualcomm describes the chip's performance as "similar graphics performance to today’s latest game consoles."
The APQ8064 will feature support for both PC and LP DDR memory, serial and PCIe interfaces, and multiple USB ports.
III. The Release
Samples of the new MSM8930 chip will begin sampling in Q2 2011 (in a couple months). It could ship in devices before the year's end. The dual- and quad-core MSM8960 and APQ8064 won't be sampled until early 2012.
By then expect Samsung, NVIDIA, and Texas Instruments to be cooking up new dual- and quad-core designs, so you can think of this announcement more of a taste of what's to come, across the board. But a sweet taste it is.