Qualcomm Adds to Mobile Chip Portfolio With Snapdragon 821

The new SoC, which is aimed at such devices as smartphones and VR headsets, will be 10 percent faster and more efficient than the 820, officials say.

Qualcom Snapdragon

Qualcomm's high-performance Snapdragon 820 mobile chip, launched about six months ago, was what the vendor needed following the problems that came along with its predecessor, the 810.

With the Snapdragon 820, the company not only got back to designing custom ARM-based cores for the Kryo CPU, but integrated a wide range of components onto the system-on-a-chip (SoC), including graphics, a digital signal processor (DSP) and machine learning capabilities. According to Qualcomm officials, it's now in more than 115 premium smartphones and tablets, including Samsung's Galaxy 7 and S7 devices, Xiaomi's Mi5, LG Electronics' G5 and the HTC 10. It's also leading the company's push into such areas as virtual reality (VR) and connected cars.

Now the chip maker is unveiling the Snapdragon 821, an incremental upgrade that officials said will work as a complement to its predecessor. It will be 10 percent faster, will run applications more quickly and be more power efficient, which will mean even more battery life from the devices it powers. Devices powered by the Snapdragon 821—which is aimed not only at smartphones and tablets, but other systems like VR headsets—will start appearing in the second half of the year.

"Why would you introduce something to replace what many consider the best mobile processor available today?" Qualcomm Marketing Director Mark Shedd wrote on a post on the company blog. "Simple, we're not. Rather than replace the Snapdragon 820, the 821 is designed to complement and extend the competitive strengths of our Snapdragon 800 lineup."

Shedd wrote that the new chip will build on the innovation in the 820.

"The 821 is engineered to deliver faster speed, improved power savings, and greater application performance, ensuring 821 powered devices keep pace with the growing performance demands of users to deliver the unmatched user experiences the Snapdragon 800 tier is known for," he wrote.

Qualcomm is the world's top vendor of chips for mobile devices, a status that took a blow in late 2014 and into 2015 after the release of the Snapdragon 810. The company had used ARM's standard SoC architecture for the 801 to accelerate the delivery of its first 64-bit mobile chip. However, concerns over the heat generated by the chip caused Samsung to pass on the 810 for its Galaxy S6 smartphone, a move that jarred Qualcomm.

With the Snapdragon 820, the company returned to developing custom ARM-based chips, tightly integrated a range of components onto the CPUs and manufactured the processors through a 14-nanometer FinFET process for greater performance and power efficiency. The new chip was embraced by most device makers, including Samsung.

In addition, Qualcomm's position within the mobile chip market was bolstered in April when Intel officials reportedly decided to end development efforts in some low-power mobile Atom chips to help the company focus more of its energy and money in areas such as the Internet of things (IoT), data center and 5G connectivity. Intel had struggled to find a foothold in the mobile space, but its size and resources made it a potential threat to Qualcomm.

Qualcomm is hoping to keep the momentum going with the Snapdragon 820. The 821 will use a Kryo quad-core CPU and hit speeds of up to 2.4GHz.

"Because the Snapdragon 820 helped improve the user experience for mobile imaging, virtual reality, battery life, and connectivity speed and reliability, all the updates we've included in Snapdragon 821 will help keep devices powered by Snapdragon 800 premium-tier processors at the top of people's shopping lists into the foreseeable future," Shedd wrote.