Who will have the lowest-power, highest-performance mobile processor in Android devices by the end of this year?
Qualcomm tried to clear up any confusion about the launch of their new processor micro-architecture, code-named Krait, on today’s Q3 2011 earnings call. “We sampled the Snapdragon MSM8960 ahead of schedule this quarter,” said Steven Mollenkopf, Qualcomm’s Executive Vice President. “Our first 28-nanometer device will really go commercial at the end of this calendar year.”
Qualcomm puts the pedal to the metal
So why is Qualcomm in such a rush to get their latest silicon out the door? They might not admit it, but I believe NVIDIA and other competitors have forced Qualcomm to speed up their cadence.
It is surprising for Qualcomm to sample these new chipsets early, as they have traditionally tried to extend their product life-cycle as long as possible to maximize their profits. Devices with Qualcomm’s first dual-core Scorpion Snapdragons (MSM8x60), like the HTC Sensation and HTC EVO 3D, just started appearing in stores. Now that part will be eclipsed by a successor only months later.
Steven Mollenkopf revealed Qualcomm would open up their wallet this year to get Krait out early. “We are modestly increasing our R&D investments in the fiscal fourth quarter to support new process technologies, the commercialization of our expanding multi-core and LTE product offerings and to support multiple new customer opportunities.”
Who will have the first Krait device?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which handset maker will get Krait first. Qualcomm and HTC are joined at the hip; I often think of them as the same company. Several sources have told us HTC already provided prototype devices with Krait to Google.
Can a dual-core compete with a quad-core?
Just a few months ago, it looked like NVIDIA would hold the performance (and hype) crown for awhile with their quad-core Project Kal-El. Now Qualcomm is pretty confident their Krait parts will offer a better experience and could arrive in smartphones before NVIDIA’s quad-core.
TechRadar reported that Ben Timmons, senior director of marketing and business development at Qualcomm, said “regardless of GPU and CPU power, we’re in a strong position because of our experience of optimising and integrating our hardware with software and the actual user experience. Our dual core will be as good as a standard quad core.”
We still don’t know exactly how Krait will stack up to the competition in terms of raw performance, but it is the first 28-nanometer mobile processor. So, it should offer industry leading battery life. Qualcomm claims Krait has “65 percent lower power than currently available ARM-based CPU cores”, but we don’t know which ARM parts they are comparing it to.
If you want a more technical breakdown on Krait then head over to AnandTech.
So will I really be able to buy a Krait device this year?
It sounds entirely possible that Qualcomm will have Krait ready by Q4, but that still doesn’t mean devices will be in stores for you to run out and purchase. At this point, it’s still too early to tell.
In a perfect world I’m sure Qualcomm would love for Krait to find its way into the Nexus 3 and become the lead platform for Ice Cream Sandwich smartphones. However, it would take a long time for Qualcomm engineers to bring up a new version of Android on Krait.
Google has hinted that another Nexus device would ship around the holidays to coincide with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich. Rumors suggest Texas Instruments has access to Ice Cream and their OMAP4 platform is already available, but I wouldn’t count Qualcomm out yet.
My opinion will likely change as we count down to Christmas, but I seriously doubt Google will delay their flagship Nexus smartphone to wait on a semiconductor partner. Texas Instrument’s OMAP4 is ready now. That’s the safe bet for Ice Cream Sandwich.
I’d love to be wrong about this, but I don’t expect Krait devices to appear until early 2012.