US ARM-class chip maker Qualcomm produces some of the hottest ARM processors on the market and its no surprise that any smartphone maker worth its salt is lining up to get hold of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon CPUs for its products. But with so many different options available, it can be a bit of a nightmare trying to figure out what’s what.
So in this roundup, we’re going to look at the Snapdragon 200, 400, 600 and 800-class ARM processors to see what makes them tick. We won’t delve into the architecture but we will look at them in a way that makes it easier to tell them apart when you’re trying to decide between phones.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 200
The Snapdragon 200-series is the entry-level ‘newbie’ range of the new family.
So far there are six different Snapdragon 200 CPUs – the MSM8225Q, MSM8625Q, MSM8210, MSM8610, MSM8212 and MSM8612.
Rather than concentrate on each model, we’ll break them down into the differences.
The Q-series are actually older ARM Cortex A5 designs, but quad-core and clocking at 1.4GHz. They’re manufactured on a larger 45-nanometre scale so they’re cheaper to make, but not as power efficient. They use the entry-level Adreno 203 graphics core.
The 8×10 series (dual-core) and 8×12 models (quad-core) are based on the newer Cortex A7 design, all clocking at 1.2GHz with faster Adreno 302 graphics. They’re manufactured at a smaller 28nm scale, so they’re more expensive to make but more power efficient, which should help with producing good battery life.
The Snapdragon 200 series was only announced recently and will be used in entry-level smartphones.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
The 400-series is the most plentiful in numbers with ten on offer – we’ll keep this short and just use the basic model numbers: 8226, 8626, 8926, 8230, 8630, 8930, 8030AB, 8230AB, 8630AB, 8930AB.
The 8×26 range are quad-core Cortex A7 designs with up-rated Adreno 305 graphics cores, all manufactured at 28-nanometres and clocking at between 1.2 and 1.4GHz.
The 8×30 series are dual-core but are the first to utilise Qualcomm’s own custom Krait CPU design. Qualcomm is one of the very few ARM license holders that pumps out its own architecture. The Krait design conforms perfectly to the ARMv7 instruction set but does it differently to the reference ARM Cortex design. And this is first CPUs where the Qualcomm ‘special sauce’ comes into play. These chips are based on the entry-level Krait 200 core design, but otherwise share the 8×26 features such as 28nm manufacture and Adreno 305 GPU core.
Finally, the the four AB-series chips all use the uprated Krait 300 core design clocking up to 1.7GHz, again in a dual-core arrangement, manufactured at 28nm and with the Adreno 305 core.
The Snapdragon 400 series is expected to appear in mid-range phones in the next 12 months.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 600
For most of 2013, the Snapdragon 600 series has been the flagship Qualcomm CPU range, appearing in some top-drawer smartphones including the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.
At the moment, there are only two in this series – the APQ8064T and APQ8064M. Again, these are both manufactured at up to 28nm and run the faster Adreno 320 graphics core. The main difference is the T chip runs at up to 1.9GHz, while the M model tops out at 1.7GHz. The T also includes integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth while the M doesn’t. Basically, these are quad-core versions of the Snapdragon 400 but include the faster Adreno 320 GPU.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
The Snapdragon 800 is now the new flagship ARM CPU until we see the the first 64-bit Cortex A57 chips some time in 2014. They use the new Krait 400 core design, clocked up to an impressive 2.3GHz. They all run the fastest Adreno 330 GPU core, they’re all manufactured at 28nm, they all have integrated 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. The difference? The modem. The 8074 comes with no data connectivity at all; the 8274 is the HSPA+ (3G); the 8674 supports CDMA networks; and the 8974 is the next-generation 4G/LTE option.
So far, the first phones announced using these chips are the Samsung Galaxy S4 LTE-A model and Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra. Reports also suggest Microsoft showed off its up-coming Surface RT tablet using a Snapdragon 800 series CPU at its recent Developer’s Conference. This will be an interesting test to see how well the Snapdragon Krait core compares with Intel’s X86-architectured Atom CPU in a Windows environment in terms of productivity speed.
So that’s a rough snapshot of the new Snapdragon series – as I said, it’s not a full-on view of the architecture difference but it should be enough for you to understand just what you’re picking up the next time you go to buy a Qualcomm-powered smartphone from your favourite brand.
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