It was only yesterday that I penned an article discussing MediaTek’s leaked roadmap and then today I’m writing about a leaked Qualcomm roadmap. That seems a little bit suspicious to me; it’s almost as though the major mobile SoC (System on Chip) manufacturers are watching one another! However, I don’t want to waste any more words on this but instead I want to take a look at what Qualcomm might be working on for the rest of the year, starting with the flagship processor and the replacement for the Snapdragon 810. Qualcomm have picked a family number for the new high end chipset, the Snapdragon 820. The Snapdragon 820 has two reasonably major new steps over and above the Snapdragon 810: Qualcomm are switching to a smaller processor die and are switching back to using their own custom processor core design. It’s going to be an octa core, big.LITTLE design as with the Snapdragon 810. Here, big.LITTLE combines four high-performance processor cores with four high efficiency, but slower, cores and is used to blend high power with high efficiency.
I’ll write about the die size first: in the mobile processor sphere, smaller is better for a few reasons. Firstly, the smaller the processor, the more space there is for other components inside the chassis, such as camera modules or battery cells. Secondly, smaller circuits require less voltage in order to run and this reduces the power consumption and heat output. And finally, there’s less distance for the electrons to travel in a smaller processor so the chips can be made faster. Qualcomm’s Android processors have moved from 65nm (my Dell Streak) through to 28nm (many processors over the last eighteen months), to 20nm (the Snapdragon 810) and now to 14nm (the new 820).
The second part of the news is that Qualcomm are again using their own custom processor core. In essence, Qualcomm are going back to using custom cores, because since 2012 until very recently many of their processors have been based around their Krait design. For their first-generation 64-bit processor, Qualcomm used the ARM reference core, thus losing one of the key differences between their chipsets and most of the competition. The reason why Qualcomm have used the ARM reference core, is simply because their own custom design was not ready for the leap to 64-bit. And later in 2015, Qualcomm are moving to their new 64-bit Taipan architecture.
The Snapdragon 820 will also support LTE Category 10 wireless networking speeds, the new Adreno 530 GPU and faster LPDDR4 RAM modules. But between the Snapdragon 810 and 820, Qualcomm are planning to release the Snapdragon 815, another big.LITTLE octa core design but manufactured on a 20nm die process, similar to the 810 but improved with the same Category 10 LTE support and high-performance LPDDR4 RAM.
As well as the two new exciting 800-series SoCs, the leaked roadmap shows four new mid-range processors from the 600-series family, the 618, 620, 625 and 629. The 618 and 620 are both quad core units, with the 618 based around a 28nm die size, the 620 a 20nm die size. The 625 and 629 areboth octa core, big.LITTLE units. As we move up the 600-series range, we gain access to higher performance modems and RAM controllers.
The leaked roadmap seems a sensible place for Qualcomm to be positioning their processors and almost comes as a “we’re moving to 14nm” rebuff after my MediaTek article on the weekend. However, the new die size is reserved for only the very high end processor in the family. The smaller the die size, the harder it is to manufacturer the processor and so the more expensive. I’m expecting the Qualcomm 820 to be expensive and so only fitted to the flagship models, whereas the lesser models will be significantly cheaper. However, as a taster of what might be to come later in the year (as this is but a rumor) it’s an interesting roadmap and gives us plenty to be excited about.