Why Qualcomm's New Chip Looks Great

Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 810 looks like an extremely competitive mobile chip ready to own the high end for yet another year.

Ashraf Eassa
Ashraf Eassa
Apr 20, 2014 at 9:30AM
Technology and Telecom

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is the world's leading mobile processor vendor. As a result of extremely solid execution, the company has continued to solidify its leadership position in mobile products. Over the past several months, the company has been rolling out a 64-bit mobile chip stack, beginning with the low end, topped off most recently by a high-end pair of products -- the Snapdragon 808 and Snapdragon 810 processors.

Let's talk Snapdragon 810
The Snapdragon 810 features the following:

  • Four ARM Holdings (NASDAQ:ARMH) Cortex A57 cores running at a maximum frequency of 2GHz and four ARM Cortex A53 cores in a big.LITTLE configuration.
  • Adreno 430 GPU.
  • Integrated 4G LTE-Advanced Cat. 6 modem.
  • Dual Image Signal Processors (enabling up to 55 megapixel camera support).
  • LPDDR4 support (25.6 GB/s memory bandwidth).

This is a thoroughly high-end system on a chip that should offer some pretty fantastic performance. Indeed, given that ARM's Cortex A57 offers roughly 30% higher performance per clock over the prior ARM Cortex A15 core (meaning that a 2GHz A57 should be about as fast as a 2.6GHz Cortex A15), this should be a pretty substantial uplift from the prior-generation Krait 400 found inside the Snapdragon 800/801.

To put this in perspective, a 1.9 GHz Cortex A15 Exynos 5 Octa performs roughly the same as a 2.26 GHz Krait 400 found in the Snapdragon 800. This implies that, at peak single-core performance, the Snapdragon 810 should offer about 37% greater single-threaded performance from the prior-generation Snapdragon 800.

A big graphics boost and a shiny new modem
According to Qualcomm, the next-generation Adreno 430 inside the Snapdragon 810 offers up to 30% more performance than the prior Adreno 420, which itself offers up to 40% more performance than the Snapdragon 800/801 GPU found in top-shelf phones like the Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) Galaxy S5. This means about 80% greater performance than the best Snapdragon 800/801 chips available today.

The new chip also integrates a next-generation LTE-Advanced category 6 modem, improving download speeds to 300 megabits per second. That's about twice the theoretical performance of the modem block found in the Snapdragon 800/801. This should be the most advanced modem in any shipping system on a chip at the time.

What will the competition be?
There is likely to only be one other 20-nanometer system on a chip shipping in volume, and that'll be Apple's next-generation "A" series processor. The rest of the ARM players are likely to be on the 28-nanometer node. Intel will be shipping its 22-nanometer Moorefield system-on-chip, but it won't integrate a baseband. Further, Moorefield's graphics engine is likely to be slower than that found in the 810.

In tablets, the competition is more robust. Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) Cherry Trail (14-nanometer, new CPU and GPU architecture) should be quite competitive for performance tablets, as should NVIDIA's (NASDAQ:NVDA) Tegra K1 and successors. Qualcomm still has the integration advantage with its parts here, but in high-end tablets this isn't as big of a deal as it is in handsets and low-end tablets.

Foolish bottom line
Qualcomm's next-generation system-on-a-chip products -- in particular the high-end Snapdragon 810 -- look extremely competitive. While there are higher-end chips coming later in 2015 to compete with Qualcomm in phones, Qualcomm should have an easy time winning the major hero devices during the first half of 2015 (think the Galaxy S6, the HTC One successor, the LG G4, and so on). The battle at the high end doesn't look like it gets interesting until late 2015 or early 2016.