New MSM8960 "Pro" chip receives a Adreno 320 upgrade

At the start of the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) has kicked things off with a bang, unveiling the MSM8960 "Pro" processor, an upgraded Snapdragon 4 dual-core processor which packs an improved graphics processing unit.

The new chip will launch in 2012, and will be targetted at tablets and laptops running Windows 8.  Windows 8 is the latest operating system from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) set to launch sometime in October or November 2012.  Windows 8 will be the first version of the mainstream consumer Windows to support ARM architecture chips like Qualcomm's and the first to be designed specifically with tablet applications in mind.

The new Microsoft OS is a valuable opportunity for Qualcomm to compete in the Windows world, for the first time, against veteran players like Intel Corp. (INTC).  Luis Pineda, senior vice president of computing and consumer products at Qualcomm, states, "Snapdragon S4 and S4 Pro are designed to enable tablets and notebook devices to deliver the high performance, flexibility, global 3G/4G connectivity and energy efficiency consumers are increasingly demanding.  We are excited about the Snapdragon S4 Pro processors’ potential for consumers, and about the upcoming Windows 8 platform."

Recent benchmarks of the base edition MSM8960 MDP (dual-core) CPU by AnandTech showed a chip with "insane" CPU performance, but which only earned a draw in GPU performance, versus current generation competitors' offerings.  The new MSM8960 Pro should rectify this by bumping the on-die GPU from an Adreno 225 to an Adreno 320, creating a true industry-leading design.

One oft forgotten fact is that the Adreno GPUs in Qualcomm's chips were originally produced by the defunct graphics maker ATI Technologies Inc.  After ATI's acquisition by Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), it divested its mobile graphics offerings, allowing Qualcomm to scoop of the mature division.  

Snapdragon 4
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 4, just received an Adreno 300 series upgrade at MWC 2012.
(Image Source: Engadget)

Since then it has been among the top mobile graphics makers, on par with Britain's Imagination Technologies Group plc. (LON:IMG) (makers of the PowerVR GPUs) and ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM) (makers of the Mali GPUs).  Whereas ARM Holdings' and Imagination Technologies' GPUs are "intellectual property cores" -- complete circuits that can be purchased by any OEM and added to their design -- Qualcomm only uses its Adreno with its own chips.  Hence the unit offers Qualcomm with a degree of differentiation -- for better or worse.

Qualcomm's press release was scant on technical details, but it claimed the new Adreno 320 GPU will be four times as fast (as the previous generation?), and will pack improved support for new standards, including OpenCL.  Support for the Unity and Epic game engines was also mentioned.

The new Snapdragon 4 chips incorporate an on-die LTE modem, an industry first.  The chips are being produced on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd.'s (TPE:2330new 28 nm processes.

Source: Qualcomm

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