Handset heavyweight Qualcomm is set to butt heads with Intel as it readies its high-performance Snapdragon chip.
Qualcomm's three-year effort to design its first gigahertz-class processor for smartphones will come to fruition this summer. And if products roll out in the numbers Qualcomm claims, Snapdragon should solidify the San Diego, Calif.-based company's position as the preeminent maker of cell phone chips, while allowing it to challenge Intel's dominance in Netbooks.
I sat down with Mark Frankel, vice president of product management for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, last week to discuss the prospects for Snapdragon and Intel's increasing presence in small devices.
"From a business perspective and design win perspective, things have only increased since Q4 of last year," Frankel said of Snapdragon.
Toshiba will be the first to bring out a Snapdragon-based smartphone. "Toshiba is this summer. That's the only Snapdragon 'hard' device that's been announced so far. You'll see many more over the course of the year," Frankel said.
The Toshiba TG01 Windows Mobile-based phone was unveiled in February. It uses a 1GHz Snapdragon (aka the Qualcomm QSD8250 chipset), is only 9.9mm thick (versus 12.3mm for the Apple iPhone), runs Windows Mobile 6.1, sports a 4.1-inch WVGA 800x480 touch screen (versus 3.5-inch for the iPhone), and comes with support for 3G HSPA, Wi-Fi, GPS, and assisted-GPS.
(See video below of Qualcomm-developed game running on the Toshiba TG01 and Snapdragon.)
Acer and Asus, among others, are also expected to bring out Snapdragon-based products.
It took a long time for Qualcomm to reach this point. In November 2006, Luis Pineda, Qualcomm's senior vice president of marketing and product management at the time, told ZDNet UK that "chipsets based on Snapdragon should become available towards the end of 2007, with products appearing the following year." That didn't happen, of course.
Nevertheless, Qualcomm--as the leading provider of core silicon in cell phones--has a long history of providing chips for high-profile phones. The T-Mobile G1, which runs Google's Android operating system, is powered by Qualcomm's processor, for example.
One of Snapdragon's purported fortes is its performance. The chip runs at 1GHz, a milestone for the power-frugal ARM architecture, which typically yields processors that run at much lower speeds. (U.K.-based ARM licenses a basic chip design to companies including Samsung, Nvidia, Toshiba, and Panasonic, which take the design and modify it for their specific needs.)
Snapdragon boasts an ATI graphics engine, too. In February, Qualcomm acquired Advanced Micro Devices' ATI handheld chip technology, which includes intellectual property for "unified shader architecture" that has been used in Microsoft's Xbox.
Frankel said the ATI graphics engine will improve. "Going forward, you'll see more and more innovation done in-house," he said.
Qualcomm is also going multi-core, an established trend at Intel and AMD for PC and server chips but not for handheld devices because of the power requirements. And even Intel abandoned--though this may change later this year--multi-core in its Netbook Atom line-up because it would make Atom too power hungry.
"It is possible to have multi-core versions just as there are multi-core versions of Intel and AMD processors," Frankel said. "We do have a pretty robust CPU road map. (A dual-core) chip has been in development for some time. And it's well under way. It's sampling this year. You won't see it product this year. You'll see version one of Snapdragon," he said.
The Qualcomm QSD8672 dual-core Snapdragon is expected to reach speeds of 1.5GHz. … Read more