A Business Korea report last week quoted an "industry source" as saying that Qualcomm (QCOM -2.74%)  faces significant difficulties with its Snapdragon 810 processor. These issues reportedly include:

  • The chip "overheats when it reaches a specific voltage";
  • It "slows down owing to problems with the RAM controller connected to the AP"; and
  • There is a problem with the graphics driver for the chip

Some investors have speculated that these problems could result from the ARM (ARMH) Cortex A57 processor core found inside the Snapdragon 810 system-on-chip being too power hungry. However, a very simple counterargument shows that any issues that Qualcomm might be having likely have nothing to do with the Cortex A57 core.

Simple counterexample: Samsung Exynos 5433 inside the Galaxy Note 4
Samsung launched its Galaxy Note 4 phablet this year in two flavors. The first is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 paired with a Qualcomm MDM9235 LTE-Advanced baseband. Other variants, which use either Samsung- or Intel (INTC -5.42%)-designed modems depending on the region,sport a Samsung-designed Exynos 5433 applications processor. This processor is built on Samsung's 20-nanometer manufacturing process and implements the same ARM Cortex A57/A53 big.LITTLE configuration found in the Snapdragon 810.

Indeed, according to xda-developers forum user "Nuu~," who claims to own both Snapdragon 805 and an Exynos 5433 models of the Galaxy Note 4, the Exynos variant of the Note 4 is a bit snappier and "stays a little cooler" than the Snapdragon 805 version.

While this is just one forum users' experience with the devices, I'm very hesitant to blame the Cortex A57 given that there seems to be evidence that the Exynos 5433 performs well at acceptable power consumption and heat levels. 

What could have actually gone wrong?
Note the nature of the claimed issues: the full chip allegedly overheats, the RAM controller supposedly causes performance issues, and the graphics driver is reportedly buggy. None of these, if true, would have anything to do with the Cortex A57/Cortex A53 CPU complex inside the system-on-chip.

With the Snapdragon 810, Qualcomm is dealing with a lot of new stuff at once. The Adreno 430 GPU inside the 810 is new, the LPDDR4 memory controller is new and quite possibly the first commercially available LPDDR4 implementation, the cellular baseband is Qualcomm's most complex yet, and this is Qualcomm's first highly integrated 20-nanometer system-on-chip.

In other words, this is a really ambitious processor with a lot of potential places for things to go wrong. The ARM Cortex A57/A53 cores that have been available for licensing for some time now are probably the least of Qualcomm's worries here.

Time to panic?
Luke Johnson from Trusted Reviews reached out to Qualcomm about the issues raised by the Business Korea report, which offered the following statement: "We won't comment on any of the rumor or speculation you referenced but I can tell you that everything with Snapdragon 810 remains on track and we expect commercial devices to be available in 1H 2015."

Note that Qualcomm neither confirmed nor denied the issues that it might be having with the Snapdragon 810, but it reaffirmed that it expects Snapdragon 810 devices on the shelves in the first half of 2015.

The investment community will just have to wait and see how things unfold. However, given Qualcomm's track record of solid execution, I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.