Thursday, December 23, 2010

Qualcomm Reveals Next-Gen Snapdragon MSM8960: 28nm, dual-core, 5x Performance Improvement

Earlier today Qualcomm briefed analysts on its Snapdragon SoC roadmap. The current Snapdragon is available in both 65nm and 45nm versions integrating a single Scorpion CPU core running at up to 1GHz and an Adreno 200 or 205 GPU (respectively). Snapdragon was the SoC of choice for many Android phones over the past year and a half, not to mention the only SoC available in Windows Phone 7 devices.
In the coming months we’ll see the first dual-core Cortex A9 based NVIDIA Tegra 2 SoCs ship in devices. Sometime next year we’ll see A9 based OMAP4 SoCs in smartphones as well. So what does Qualcomm have in store for us over the next few years?
First we have the MSM8260 and 8660 SoCs. These are based on Qualcomm’s current generation technologies: integrating two Scorpion cores and an Adreno 205 GPU on a single 45nm die. The 8260 features HSPA+ support, while the 8660 supports HSPA+, CDMA2000 and 1xEV-DO Rev. B. These two dual-core SoCs will run at 1.2GHz. We should see a GPU upgrade here as well.
The 8x60 SoCs started sampling over the summer and we should expect to see them in high end smartphones sometime in 2011 at the earliest.
More exciting however is what comes next. Today’s disclosures included further details for the next-generation Snapdragon SoC built on a 28nm process. The first member of the next-gen Snapdragon family is the Qualcomm MSM8960 SoC.
Inside the MSM8960 are two next-generation processor cores, presumably out-of-order as Qualcomm is promising 5x the performance of the original Snapdragon chip (2x for the move to dual cores and the rest due to OoO, larger caches and other architectural tweaks perhaps?). Qualcomm isn’t disclosing clock speed at this time.
Power consumption is said to be 75% lower, however that seems very aggressive compared to what we have today. It’s unclear if Qualcomm is talking about active or idle power, or what version of Snapdragon it is comparing to (65nm or 45nm).
On the GPU side Qualcomm is making significant performance claims as well. The MSM8960 is set to offer a ~4x improvement in graphics performance. Again, Qualcomm wasn’t specific about what the reference point was. If it’s compared to the Adreno 200, that would imply a doubling of the GPU performance we have today.
Qualcomm has separately announced that the Adreno 3xx GPU would be used in SoCs from 2011 - 2013 on a 28nm process. This appears to be the GPU family used in the next-generation Snapdragon. Even more interesting is Qualcomm stating that Adreno 3xx will have performance similar to the Xbox 360/PS3.
If that’s indeed the level of graphics performance we’ll see in the next 3 years, being able to play Xbox 360 titles on Windows Phone 8 may not be too far fetched.
The 8960 continues to be a single chip solution with integrated modem, supporting all 3G modes as well as LTE. The MSM8960 will begin sampling in 2011, meaning we likely won’t see smartphones based on it until 2012.

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