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[Click to enlarge] Qualcomm's roadmap shows dual Scorpion core chips coming in 2011.  (Source: Qualcomm via Anandtech)

[Click to enlarge] Qualcomm is also hoping to complete in 2011 a new core architecture, which it will produce at the 28 nm node.  (Source: Qualcomm via Anandtech)

[Click to enlarge] And it claims it will deliver between 2011 and 2013 a mobile GPU as powerful as that of the PS3 or Xbox 360.  (Source: Qualcomm via Anandtech)

[Click to enlarge] Qualcomm is very confident in its pricing.  (Source: Qualcomm via Anandtech)
Dual core Snapdragon also coming in 2011

Imagine a dual-core-powered phone with enough graphics processing might to power a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.  That's precisely what some of the smartphone industry's biggest hardware players are promising.

Next year, NVIDIA will air its Tegra 2 system-on-a-chip which comes complete with a dual-core ARM9 and super-powered mobile GPU.  Not to be outdone, Qualcomm just announced its own plans for mobile hardware domination and they're shaping up to be equally impressive.

Qualcomm's Chip Plans for 2011

First up will be the pair of previously announced dual CPU core 45 nm system-on-a-chips.  These chips will launch in phones early next year.  Dubbed the MSM8260 and 8660, these system-on-a-chips are powered by the Adreno 205 GPU and two Scorpion cores clocked at 1.2 GHz.  The key difference between the two chip models is in mobile broadcast standards support.  The 8260 only supports HSPA+, while the 8660 supports HSPA+, CDMA2000 and 1xEV-DO Rev. B.  These chips have already been completed and sampled to hardware partners, so phones should be soon coming to market.

This week Qualcomm also disclosed that it would be moving to the 28 nm process node. The first SoC to be produced at the new node will be the MSM8960.  The new SoC won't just be a die shrink; it will also feature a new core design.  While the company refuses to hint at clock speeds, it will say the new chip will be 5 times as powerful as the original (single Scorpion core) SnapDragon, meaning that each core will be roughly 2.5 times as powerful as its predecessor.

The company also claims it can achieve all of that while operating at 75% of the current generation's power (though it was less specific about what kind of power measure and which core -- 45 nm or 65 nm -- it was comparing to).  This claim has been met with a bit of confusion and skepticism, but if it's as good as it sounds, Qualcomm should be good shape.

In the vague boasting department, Qualcomm also bragged that the 8960 would 4x as powerful graphically (as some nonspecific design).  The Adreno 205 is roughly twice as powerful as the original Adreno 200, so 4x the 200 would be twice the current 205's power.

Graphics as Powerful as a PS3 -- in the Palm of Your Hand

Some time in the 2011-2013 window, Qualcomm plans to air the Adreno 3xx which could be its crowning achievement -- if it pulls it off.  The GPU will be made for use with SoCs on the 28 nm node.  Qualcomm claims it will be graphically as powerful as an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.  Of course, those console GPUs are paired with lots of graphics RAM so it seems unlikely that the true performance would match these next-gen consoles.

ide note: an Adreno GPU will power the upcoming PlayStation Phone.)

Nonetheless, if it can even match the processing power of these consoles, that could make for some impressive smartphone graphics.  The new GPU will support the upcoming OpenGL ES "Haiti", the successor to OpenGL ES 2.0.  It will also jump on the GPU computing bandwagon, adding support for OpenCL 1.1.  What good GPU computing on a smartphone would be seems questionable, but then again, several years back few could predict the growing uses of GPU computing in the PC/server sector today.

Qualcomm is also promising that it will outcompete competitors like NVIDIA in chip cost and size.  So far the company seems to have done quite well in the exploding Android market, so there's likely some merit to these claims.

The company is also developing dual-mode chips, which will support both 3G technologies and 4G (LTE).


To put this week's presentation by Qualcomm in perspective, it appears that some very powerful hardware is coming down the pipe.  One thing we see as a clear problem is that the amounts of memory found in current generation smartphones won't be capable of supporting these kinds of phones.  

If hardware partners can work together, to say, triple the memory of current Android models (1 GB for CPU, 512 MB for GPU), then we could have some mighty impressive products on our hands.  Otherwise Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and others miss overshooting on the processing power mark.

Equally important is the inherent limitations of size.  What Qualcomm and NVIDIA are pushing for is essentially a smartphone in the palm of your hand that's as powerful as a modern PC.  While that sounds great, input and interaction with modern smartphone operating systems -- Android, iOS, etc. is nowhere near as quick, efficient, and easy as on a PC.

New technologies and strategies are desperately needed here.  Otherwise, yet again, companies will be producing smartphones with a many-fold increase in power, but relatively little boost in actual substance.


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RE: Irrelevant
By DanNeely on 11/19/2010 2:48:10 PM , Rating: 3
This is almost certainly the same snake oil first printed a month or two ago that stressed vertex/polygon performance equal to the PS3. What they're not mentioning is that vertex/polygon performance almost flatlined for several generations because texture/shading performance offered the largest gains. As a result the GeForce 5xxx and GT2xx series cards had almost equal poly performance despite the fact that in each of the 4 major version increments total performance doubled.

Since they're not going into any specifics on overall performance I assume that that shader/texture performance levels are on part with a high end 5xxx card and about 4x slower than the 78xx variant in the PS3.

OTOH when smartphone screens are closer to analog TV resolutions than 720p it might be able to polish the handful of pixels it does push to the same degree as the PS3. This is ofc assuming that they're not scaling the polygon performance level for the screen size when making the comparison in the first place.

RE: Irrelevant
By mcnabney on 11/19/2010 4:11:42 PM , Rating: 2
I could see this working out, but the original poster was correct that I/O needs to be drastically changed.

My solution is three devices.

1. Smartphone with high performance 1080p gaming power
2. Wireless controller(s) with all the same features as found in current consoles.
3. Wireless Headset that create a 1080p image for the wearer. Could even be 3D.

It could even do DLNA to current 1080p HDTVs when at home. Wireless HDMI or WiGig could certainly do the job and LTE connections on the smartphones allow sub-30ms latency. Game on!

RE: Irrelevant
By ekv on 11/20/2010 4:15:29 AM , Rating: 2
RE: Irrelevant
By mcnabney on 11/20/2010 11:41:57 AM , Rating: 2
Me likey!

RE: Irrelevant
By superPC on 11/20/2010 5:53:45 AM , Rating: 2
polygon performance hasn't increase? from GTX 285 to GTX 480 polygon performance has increase by more than two fold ( see here ).

RE: Irrelevant
By DanNeely on 11/20/2010 2:55:20 PM , Rating: 3
You need to work on your reading comprehension. What I said was that it was almost flatlined from the GF5xxx to the GF2xx series. Since I don't have ready access to the detailed performance breakdown at each level I picked that range because it was what was used to point out how the current generation's gains were a major departure from how things had been done in the past. Since the 78xx based GPU in the PS3 was in the middle of the range it was a valid comparison; while what happened between the 285 and the 480 is not.

The 280 was 150x faster on shading, but only 3x faster on geometry (texturing hardware got a big boost too but I don't have an actual numbers). Scaling with ATI was similar although prior to the 4xx series they had a decent (if virtually never used) edge over nVidia on geometry.

What finally happened was DX11's tessellation giving a big boost to geometry needs in the common API. This in turn was due to the shader and texturing performance levels of the cards getting high enough that the most readily apparent difference between what they could render in real time on a single card, and what took an hour a frame for one of Pixar renderfarm was that the latter had a much higher polygon count, not that it had higher AA levels/etc.

We probably aren't going to see shader performance flatline for several generations the way geometry did though because the more detailed meshes require more computing power to shade properly. I'm not certain if higher polygon counts will push texturing equally hard or not.

RE: Irrelevant
By DanNeely on 11/20/2010 2:59:24 PM , Rating: 2
Actually if anything I understated how big the real world performance gap is likely to be because I didn't have time to find the anandtech article and had underestimated how rapidly shaders had been improving during the period when geometry performance enhancements were sidelined. As the first round of mobile GPUs with geometry performance that's close their performance levels for everything else are almost certainly at the low end of the range. The only counterbalancing factor is that high DPI screens need less AA because the smaller pixels are less visible to the human eye.

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