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New chips add 64-bit ARM processing, 4K display and video support, advanced LTE, and more

If you'll be in the market for a new premium smartphone in 2015, and you're not buying an Apple, Inc. (AAPL) device, chances are the CPU powering that phone of your dreams was announced today.

Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) today made official its plans for the much-anticipated 64-bit successor chips to the highly successful Snapdragon 800 chip line.  H2 2013's most used high-end processor was the Snapdragon 800.  This spring, designs packing the latest and greatest Snapdragon 801 and 805 (32-bit) have started to emerge.  These will be repaced on the high-end with a pair of 64-bit Snapdragon 800 processors -- the Snapdragon 808 and Snapdragon 810 -- starting next spring.

Sampling is set to begin soon in H2 2014, but we won't see the chips in products until early next year -- H1 2015.
Qualcomm single chip

The Snapdragon 808 and 810 are expected to bring the usual iterative improvements (faster core clocks, lower power consumption, and faster 3D graphics), but also will introduce some major technological leaps, such as the first inclusion of advanced LTE baseband processing on-die, support for 4K displays, and ARM's brand-new 64-bit CPU designs.

Qualcomm EVP Murthy Renduchintala comments:

The announcement of the Snapdragon 810 and 808 processors underscore Qualcomm Technologies’ continued commitment to technology leadership and a time-to-market advantage for our customers for premium tier 64-bit LTE-enabled smartphones and tablets.  These product announcements, in combination with the continued development of our next-generation custom 64-bit CPU, will ensure we have a tremendous foundation on which to innovate as we continue to push the boundaries of mobile computing performance in the years to come.

The new flagship 64-bit chips join the Snapdragon 410 (announced in Dec. 2013) and the Snapdragon 610 and 615 (announced at the 2014 Mobile World Congress in Feb. 2014).

II. A Laundry List of Drool-Worthy Features

The Snapdragon 808 and 810 don't leave many boxes unchecked when it comes to emerging smartphone must-haves.
Snapdragon chips
On a more detailed level, the new chips include:
  • 20 nm transistors
  • CPU
    • 64-bit registers
    • ARMv8-A instruction set
    • 2 (Snapdragon 808) or 4 (Snapdragon 810) Cortex-A57 Cores (high-power tuned)
    • 4 Cortex-A53 Cores (low-power tuned)

      ARM-Cortex A53/A57
  • GPU
    • OpenGL ES 3.1 support
    • hardware tessellation
    • geometry shaders
    • programmable blending
    • Adreno 418 (Snapdragon 808)
      • +20% speedup in 3D graphics vs. Adreno 330
      • +GPGPU compute for security/encryption
    • Adreno 430 (Snapdragon 810)
      • +30% speedup in 3D graphics vs. Adreno 420
      • +100% speedup in GPGPU computing vs. Adreno 420
      • -20% power consumption at load vs. Adreno 420
  • Memory Interface/Support
    • LPDDR4 (Snapdragon 810 only)
    • LPDDR3 (Snapdragon 808 and 810)
  • Display Support
    • WQXGA (Snapdragon 808)
      • 2560x1600 pixel
      • 1.6:1 aspect ratio
    • "4K Displays" (Snapdragon 810)
      • 3840x2160 pixel (UHD)
      • 1.78:1 aspect ratio
      • Snapdragon 808 also can support UHD, but will use framebuffer compression to achieve that
  • Image Signal Processor (ISP)
    • HDMI 1.4 -- 4K (UHD) images and video
    • 12-bit (Snapdragon 808)
    • 14-bit (Snapdragon 810)
      • Faster low light focus
      • Improved white balance
      • Enhanced exposure (HDR/HDR-like features)
      • Gyrostabilization
      • 3D noise reduction
      • Higher video framerates
        • 1080p @ 120 fps
        • 4K @ 30 fps
      • 1.2GP/s throughput
      • up to 55 megapixel image sensors
  • USB 3.0
  • Wireless
    • 4th Generation Gobi Modem (9x35)
    • RF360
      • 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
      • 802.11 ac Wi-FI
        • 2-stream
        • multi-user MIMO
      • Bluetooth 4.1
      • NFC
    • iZat Location Signal Processor Core
      • GPS + cellular based locating
      • Improved power usage and accuracy versus traditional processing
On paper this spec sheet is basically a laundry list of every feature we want to see in next-generation smartphones.

In that regard the greatest uncertainty lies more in the implementation of a couple of these points.  Specifically, the chips will likely be produced on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd.'s (TPE:2330) (TSMC) brand-new 20 nanometer transistor node.  How good the yields are at that node will heavily determine the pricing and launch dates of phones with these chips in them.

The new chips will be built on TSMC's brand-new 20 nm node process.
[Image Source: Legit Reviews]

The 20 nm node has some characteristics that could cause TSMC trouble at volume production.  Based on immersion lithography, the double-patterned approach requires multiple mask applications and additional runs.  

Aside from yields, the other key question about the 20 nm transistors is performance.  Intel Corp. (INTC) introduced FinFETs -- a 3D geometry structure -- as a means of reducing leakage at the 22 nm node.  By contrast, the 20 nm transistor isn't very 3D and is more of a traditional design.  This should be a good test to see how much 3D transistors are hype at the 20-22 nm feature size.  The result will impact the clock speeds Qualcomm is able to push the silicon to, and how efficient it can be from a battery life perspective.

TSMC is definitely going FinFET in the long run, introducing the feature on its upcoming 16 nm node.  The question isn't whether Intel is headed in the right direction, but whether it went FinFET unecessarily early.  The performance at 20 nm should answer that riddle.  

Also note that 20 nm without FinFETs may be easier for TSMC to make work as mobile CPUs typically operate at roughly half the frequency of traditional PC CPUs.  They also typically operate at lower voltages.  Both of these factors make leakage less of an issue, albeit still a significant one.

Another unknown is how efficient the new Adreno cores will be.

III. Sales Leader

A mobile juggernaut, Qualcomm owns an estimated 64 percent market share at last count in the baseband processor (cellular signal handling) market according to a Feb. 2014 research report by Strategy Analytics. According to iSuppli Research 52.3 percent of all integrated circuits in smartphones sold worldwide are made by Qualcomm.

The chipmaker's greatest leadership is in the CPU and GPU system-on-a-chip market.

Qualcomm has gained mobile GPU market share in 2013, as it battled against Imagination Technologies Group plc (LON:IMG).  The two chipmakers ended the year with a virtual tie (according to Jon Peddie research), with each owning about a third of the mobile graphics market.  Imagination Tech.'s chips are adopted by Apple and Samsung Electronics Comp. Ltd. (KRX:005935) (KRX:005930)  -- which make their own CPU cores and hence use the third-party Imagination Tech. solution. Qualcomm's mobile GPUs are adopted by most other device OEMs and ODMs, as they represent a ready-built solution for those lacking sophisticated mobile processor circuit engineering capabilities.

On the CPU front, Qualcomm was estimated to perform very well in 2013, as well.  Strategy Analytics pegged its H1 2013 revenue share at about 43 percent, while its application processor market share is about 50 percent, according to numbers from Forbes in 2013.  If anything, those numbers have likely risen since H1 2013.

Source: Qualcomm

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Looking good
By bug77 on 4/7/2014 6:03:26 PM , Rating: 2
That 808 sure looks sweet. No more bazillion cores to suck the life out of the battery. Too bad we still have a year to wait.

RE: Looking good
By retrospooty on 4/7/2014 6:11:30 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldnt worry about it. Todays 800 is pretty good. The 801 looks even better. It's not like they are hogs. They get tremendous life for what they give you.

Check these charts...

RE: Looking good
By Milliamp on 4/7/2014 11:03:01 PM , Rating: 2
From the specs above the 808 and 810 are listed at 20 to 30% faster than the 800 and 801 and the 810 should use 20% less power than the 801 at load (vs 801) but I don't see power savings figures listed for 808 vs 800.

Assuming I am reading that right.

RE: Looking good
By bug77 on 4/8/2014 6:40:11 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldnt worry about it.

I do. I remember before the age of the smartphone when a phone could last a week on a single charge. I want that back. Especially since batteries have a limited amount of charge cycles before they start loosing capacity.

RE: Looking good
By retrospooty on 4/8/2014 7:55:05 AM , Rating: 2
"I remember before the age of the smartphone when a phone could last a week on a single charge. "

??? All it did was phone and text. For those situations where you are camping and need it to last a week?

I think your expectations are beyond silly.

RE: Looking good
By bug77 on 4/8/2014 9:01:51 AM , Rating: 2
Who cares what it did? I just hate electronics that need daily care.

RE: Looking good
By smnoamls on 4/9/2014 1:48:20 AM , Rating: 2
But while I would not call your expectations silly, since you are indeed comparing phones, you are unrealistic, because you are NOT comparing phones :)

These devices we are using now are not the nokia 3300 of old.
They are exactly and literally mini laptops. Quad core, high def, multi GB, internet enabled, gaming / work machine.
I have ubuntu running on my phone. Along side android.
My old nokia phone had a 16 color screen and could play snake and hold 250 contacts + 200 messages.

You are comparing apples to borscht here.
BUT , as an experiment , I once took one of my phones and put screen on off, set cpu to minimum speed, and turned off ALL connectivity but calls.
Battery lasted me 6 days.
You know, depending on use your mileage may vary.

RE: Looking good
By bug77 on 4/9/2014 2:49:14 AM , Rating: 2
I know all that. But imagine that tomorrow someone comes up with a phone that can do a lot more than a smartphone does today (magic stuff, no less), but it requires charging every 20 minutes. Would you call that progress?
And I'm not even asking the impossible, all I'd like to see a more dual-core phones with under 5" screens and beefy batteries. Hence my appreciation for the 808 chip.

As a side note, even your experiment shows a regression in power consumption: that phone lasted for as long as old phones did, but it has a much larger battery.

RE: Looking good
By FITCamaro on 4/7/2014 6:47:51 PM , Rating: 2
Hopefully means better battery life for 4G devices.

your move, Intel
By purerice on 4/7/2014 7:38:57 PM , Rating: 2
This generation with the 808 and 810 will be the first generation capable of definitively outperforming my trustworthy C2duo machine, which I would consider the baseline for moderate work loads.

If these Qualcomm numbers are to be believed, then next year we could very well see usable $300 ARM-based desktops like NUCs, but with RAM, HD, and OS included.

Intel has to accept the fact that chips like its upcoming "Braswell" will have to replace a large percentage of expected Broadwell sales because if they don't, something else will, such as 810-based machines. Likewise Microsoft has to extend its low cost licensing to these machines or other software will run them.

I will likely upgrade in the next year but if given the choice of a minor upgrade ($300 ARM PC with $200 IPS display) or major upgrade ($900 i7 w/ dual displays), I'd probably go with the $500 solution and put the other $800 into 30 shares of INTC.

RE: your move, Intel
By flyingpants1 on 4/7/2014 8:30:05 PM , Rating: 2
If these Qualcomm numbers are to be believed, then next year we could very well see usable $300 ARM-based desktops like NUCs, but with RAM, HD, and OS included.

Yeah? These already exist, they're called Android media boxes, they're like $60. A USB HDD is $50. A monitor is $100.

Even at those prices, a whole laptop is available from Dell for $299, and it runs Windows. Please come back to the real world.

By mjrpes3 on 4/7/2014 8:06:36 PM , Rating: 2
"Cat. 6 "Advanced" LTE -- 300 Gbps downlink"

Holy bajeezus that's a fast connection. :D

RE: Wow
By mjrpes3 on 4/7/2014 8:08:02 PM , Rating: 2
Ahhh... I wasn't first.. and i can't delete my post :(

By BioHazardous on 4/7/2014 5:54:11 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe a little way down the road, but I think you meant 300Mbps.

By xrdeem on 4/7/2014 7:45:07 PM , Rating: 2
lol... I think the error is obvious enough. :)

Do we really need this?
By EricMartello on 4/14/2014 10:33:28 AM , Rating: 1
Considering that 64-bit CPUs have been around on the PC platform for over a decade and are still underutilized in all but some very specific scenarios, what is the point of going 64-bit on a device that's unlikely to be addressing large quantities of memory?

Seems like this is just a ploy to make upgrades seem necessary when in reality a phone from 5 years ago is just as capable of running apps today as any brand new phone.

The "mobile computing" market really needs to find some other way to add value, like enacting standards that allow phones and tablets to be upgraded. That would be more useful than yet another CPU that is really not going to do anything better than its predecessors.

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