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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.

(S
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).

Conclusions

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: AWW YEAh
By DanNeely on 11/20/2010 6:10:28 PM , Rating: 2
Going from 40nm to 28nm lets them double the number of transistors for a given size/power envelope; that's the bulk of the gain in and of itself. Since other components like the audio/touchscreen controller/etc won't be getting doubled transistor counts that gives them room to give a bit more space to the other parts of the chip.

As for idle power, SOCs are already built on processes that use almost no power when not actively running. They're about 10% slower than then normal process that desktop/laptop parts are made on which is why they don't get used anywhere else at present. I could see that changing for laptops in a few years though, especially if bigger OLED displays or the R&D stuff to drop LCD power by about 4 or 5x become available at a reasonable pricepoint.

Even if they don't, Intel has a low power process and scaling it up in volume from the Moorestown chip they're trying to get a smartphone/tablet company to take seriously to the rest of the atom/CULV line would give them a large power lead back over their rivals.


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