Qualcomm Intros 8-Core Snapdragon Mobile SoC

The chip maker at Mobile World Congress ramps up its high-end and premium mobile chip lines with new releases, including the eight-core 615.

Qualcomm, the top chip maker for mobile devices, is expanding its portfolio with an eight-core 64-bit offering for high-end smartphones and tablets and a follow-up to its premium Snapdragon 800 lineup, which was introduced last year.

Qualcomm officials at the Mobile World Congress 2014 on Feb. 24 unveiled the Snapdragon 615, which officials called the industry's first commercially available eight-core system-on-a-chip (SoC) that includes 64-bit and integrated Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless capabilities. At the same time, the company announced the Snapdragon 610, another 64-bit chip with integrated LTE that offers four cores.

Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 801 offers several upgrades over the 800 SoC, including support for larger and faster camera sensors to offer improved image quality, graphics and gaming capabilities; faster SD card memory; and overall better performance, according to officials.

The company's announcements come at a show where chip makers are expected to show off their latest wares in an increasingly competitive mobile device space. Intel, which is trying to muscle its way into the mobile device space, rolled out its latest 64-bit Atom "Merrifield" SoC lineup and its newest LTE wireless communications platform.

The eight-core Snapdragon 615 gives Qualcomm a leg up in an industry where most mobile chips are 32-bit capable and sport fewer cores. Increasing the number of cores in a chip is a way to increase performance without significantly increasing power consumption. The case for high numbers of cores is clear in the server space, and to a lesser extent in PCs. Mobile devices are increasingly being used for a wide range of computing tasks, and the trend in this area also is toward more cores.

Qualcomm is "redefining the user experience for high-end mobile devices by amassing the unparalleled trilogy of an industry-leading LTE modem, 64-bit multicore processing, and superior multimedia," Murthy Renduchintala, executive vice president of Qualcomm, said in a statement. "Sixty-four-bit processing capabilities are now an industry requirement for this tier, and we are meeting our customers' needs with both octa- and quad-core configurations."

The Snapdragon 610 and 615 chips join the Snapdragon 410—launched in December and aimed at mainstream devices—in giving Qualcomm a range of offerings that include 64-bit and LTE capabilities, according to company officials. They also support ARM's low-power ARMv8 64-bit design, which also can run existing 32-bit applications. All three SoCs are pin-compatible and support the same Qualcomm technologies, including power management, WiFi, Bluetooth and audio solutions. They also use the same LTE modem, the company said.

With the 610 and 615, Qualcomm also for the first time is bringing its premium Adreno 400 series graphics capabilities from the 800 series to the 600 series by including the Adreno 405 GPU.

The company will release its Qualcomm Reference Design version of the Snapdragon 610 and 615 SoCs in the fourth quarter, giving engineers a chip platform to leverage for their own innovations.

The Snapdragon 610 and 615 will begin sampling in the third quarter, with the first commercial devices expected in the fourth quarter.

The Snapdragon 801 also is pin- and software-compatible with its 800 predecessor, and the quad-core SoC includes integrated 4G LTE and 802.11ac WiFi connectivity, a Krait 400 CPU with speeds up to 2.5GHz per core and an Adreno 330 GPU.

The Snapdragon 801 will be available in devices in the first quarter, according to Qualcomm officials.