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Qualcomm launches first dual-core CPU Snapdragon

by Scott Bicheno on 1 June 2010, 10:04

Tags: Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM)

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Doubling down

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm has unveiled its first foray into the dual-core CPU SoC world with the sampling of its MSM8x60 series of Snapdragon chips.

Qualcomm is clearly looking to keep us on our toes with the nomenclature here; the first generation of Snapdragon was the 1 GHz QSD8x50 series, with QSD standing for ‘Qualcomm Snapdragon'. But now we're getting members of the Snapdragon family with the MSM (‘Mobile Station Modem') prefix.

The distinction seems to arise from tweaks to the Scorpion cores, which is the name Qualcomm gives to its CPUs. Qualcomm is one of the few SoC companies to design its CPUs with minimal assistance from ARM - merely licensing the instruction set rather than microarchitecture designs like Cortex A9. Furthermore, its graphics are based on IP it acquired when it grabbed ATI's handheld division.

This latest announcement is being positioned as the third-generation Snapdragon by Qualcomm, with the second-generation having been the QSD8x50A we first told you about at the start of the year, which clocks the single core to 1.3 GHz. The QSD has a lower-clocked stable-mate in the 1 GHz MSM8x55, which featured some multimedia optimisations.

Similarly, the 1.2 GHz MSM8x60 series announced today will have a more powerful stable-mate, as we heralded at the start of the year, in the form of the QSD8672, in which each of the two cores will clock up to 1.5 GHz. Both this and the QSD8x50A chips are manufactured on a 45nm low-power process. There's no talk of 32nm or 28nm yet, which would bring GlobalFoundries into the equation.

We spoke to senior director of business development at Qualcomm - Ben Timmons - about this launch and got a sense of the balancing act SoC makers have to maintain when announcing new chips. On one hand SoCs are about much more than just metrics like clock speed; power efficiency is ultimately more important as there's no point in having a chip that can do everything, but only enable a battery life of a couple of hours.

On the other hand, as has always been the case with CPUs, clock speed is the one metric that's easy to understand at an indication of the relative performance of the chip (as well as number of cores). The first Snapdragon has positioned itself as a 1 GHz chip from day one, despite the fact that many manufacturers have chosen to under-clock it in order to extend battery life.