Qualcomm shows new mobile SoCs at MWC Shanghai


In recent months we've seen Qualcomm launch new flagship and "upper-midrange" SoCs for smartphones, plus a faster chip for Windows laptops. The company launched four new chips at Mobile World Congress Shanghai that will power some of the next-generation of wearables and lower-cost Android smartphones.

The Snapdragon Wear 2500 (SDW 2500) is designed for what the company calls the "4G kid watch segment," while the Snapdragon 429, SD 439, and SD 632 are intended for use in entry-level and midrange handsets. While flagships get all the oohs and ahhs, Qualcomm says over 1,350 different devices bearing its SD 600-series chips are on the market and a whopping 2,300 different devices are built around its SD 400-series silicon. New low-end or midrange Snapdragon silicon could have a wide-ranging effect on the industry.

Qualcomm made a point of mentioning that all the new smartphone chips were built using FinFET technology, but stopped short of mentioning the foundries involved. Anandtech's Andrei Frumusanu says the SD 632 will be made using a 14-nm process, possibly by Samsung. The outlet says the SD 400-series pair will be made on a 12-nm node, probably at TSMC. Qualcomm didn't make a peep about the manufacturing technology in the SDW 2500, but Frumusanu speculates in a separate article that it will be made on an older process, possibly Samsung's 28 LP.

The Snapdragon 632 is probably the only chip in this bunch that will draw any attention from most enthusiasts. Qualcomm says the SD 632's Kryo 250 CPU cores and Adreno 506 graphics unit make it up to 40% faster than the previous-generation SD 626. For gerbils who left their Qualcomm CPU decoder rings at home this morning, Kryo 250 means four ARM Cortex-A73 cores and another four ARM Cortex-A53 units, all spinning at up to 1.8 GHz. The GPU can drive a display with what Qualcomm calls an "FHD+" resolutions. We expect this means screens with 1080 columns and 2000-ish rows.

Cameras are one of the biggest ways handset makers drive sales of new units, and the SD 632 can handle the output from a single 24-megapixel snapper or a pair of 13-MP sensors. The company says devices bearing SD 632 silicon will be able to capture 4K video, but doesn't make the same claims about the 400-series chips. The manufacturer throws in an integrated Snapdragon X9 LTE modem capable of downstream speeds up to 300 Mbps to round out the package.

The SD 400-series pair don't get any of those fancy Kryo cores, instead making do with off-the-shelf Cortex-A53 units. The SD 439 gets four of them churning at up to 1.95 GHz along with another four low-power number-crunchers that can clock up to 1.45 GHz. The SD 429 gets the same main cores at the same peak clock speed, but loses the four efficiency cores. Qualcomm says the two new chips are up to 25% faster than their forebears while using 25% less power. The company says the SD 439's Adreno 505 GPU is up to 20% faster than the unit in the previous-generation SD 430, while the SD 429's GPU beats its SD 425 ancestor by as much as 50%.

Qualcomm wasn't specific about the differences between the Adreno 505 and Adreno 505, but the manufacturer did say the SD 429 could be used in phones with 1440x720 screens, while the SD 439 can drive 2160x1080 displays. The lesser chip can manage a 16-MP main camera or a pair of 8-MP units, while the faster SoC can wrangle the bits from a 21-MP shooter or a pair of 8-MP snappers. Both chips get the same Snapdragon X6 LTE modem that maxes out at 150 Mbps downstream.

Qualcomm says the new chips can all run the same software as the existing SD 450, SD 625, and SD626, which should ease the workload on the engineers charged with evolving existing devices to use the new silicon. Furthermore, the SD 632 is pin-compatible with those three old chips. The SD 429 and SD 439 are pin-compatible with one another, but won't drop into grid arrays set up for any older chips. That compatibility could hasten manufacturers' development cycles for new devices.

The Snapdragon Wear 2500 is intended for use in wearable devices, specifically entry-level devices intended for kids. The four ARM Cortex-A7 (I did not leave out a number there) cores at speeds up to 1.2 GHz are pretty much carry-over from the SDW 2100 from two years ago, but Qualcomm says power consumption is reduced by 20% and battery life should go up by 14%. Device manufacturers will probably find more to like in the claims that the necessary power management circuitry has shrunk by 38%.

The company says it will offer a version of Android O optimized for kids' watches to go along with the SoC. The tailored version of the OS is said to work comfortably within 512 MB of memory, a figure that seems tiny for modern Android, yet grandiose for a child's wristwatch. The chip sports 4G LTE up to 150 Mbps down, 2.4-GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, and GPS capabilities.

Qualcomm says it is working with Huawei on the first kids watch using the Snapdragon Wear 2500. The company says it has already started shipping SDW 2500 sample chips to manufacturing partners. A company called Intrinsyc plans to start selling a system-on-module and development kit based on the wearables chip sometime next quarter. Depending on the price, that dev kit could present interesting opportunities for maker-types that want to install devices in places where Wi-Fi isn't an option. The manufacturer says handsets and other devices with the SD 429, SD 439, and SD 632 should start popping up before the end of 2018.

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