Oct 10 AT 2:52 PM Taylor Wimberly 39 Comments

Qualcomm demos 28nm Krait, expects to dominate Android devices in 2012

Qualcomm MSM8960

Pop quiz. Would you rather have a dual-core or quad-core processor inside your next Android device? Common sense might lead you to believe that more cores are better, but it’s actually a lot more complex than that.

Last week Qualcomm invited me to their headquarters for a briefing on their upcoming Krait architecture and I got a hands-on preview with an actual Snapdragon S4 device. What I witnessed was the world’s first mobile system-on-a-chip (SoC) built on 28nm process technology with a fully integrated LTE multimode modem.

The demos I saw were not exactly mind-blowing (hence no video), but there are plenty of reasons to get excited about Qualcomm’s first Krait SoC.

Highlights of the Snapdragon S4 include:

  • First on 28nm process technology: Snapdragon S4 processors are the first mobile processors to be manufactured using the latest 28nm process technology that provides inherent advantages in frequency scaling, power consumption and reduced size.
  • First Fully Integrated 3G/4G: the S4 class includes the industry’s first fully integrated LTE world mode/multimode modem.
  • First Mobile CPU to use the latest extensions to the ARM ISA: Snapdragon S4 processors are the first processors in the industry to be designed specifically for advanced process technology and using the latest extensions to the ARM instruction set architecture (ISA).
  • Superior CPU Performance: Multicore CPUs with a frequency range of 1.5Ghz to 2.5Ghz per core and supporting asynchronous symmetric multiprocessing (aSMP) for the optimal balance of performance and power efficiency.
  • Superior Modem Performance: The industry’s first fully integrated LTE world/multimode modem with support for the widest range of frequencies and bands — including full multimode support for existing standards such as EV-DO and HSPA. The modem also includes a full connectivity solution with integrated GPS Bluetooth, WiFi, and FM.
  • Superior Graphics Performance: High performance programmable Adreno GPUs for the highest quality video and console quality gaming.
  • Superior Power Efficiency: tight integration of best in class components and use of highly efficient, low power engines such as Qualcomm’s fully programmable Hexagon DSPs result in a highly power efficient system.

Mobile awesomeness built from scratch

Qualcomm’s key advantage over their competitors is that they design almost every part of the Snapdragon platform in-house and integrate everything on a single chip. The Snapdragon S4 MSM9860 features Qualcomm’s custom Krait CPU core, Adreno 225 GPU, LTE world modem, and Hexagon DSPs.

For those of you familiar with the Android handset manufactures, think of Qualcomm as the Samsung of the group. They are big enough to have the resources to customize everything and we expect greatness from them.

New Krait CPU Architecture

Krait is the codename for Qualcomm’s second-generation CPU and it offers 60% performance increase compared to the existing Scorpion micro-architecture found in the Snapdragon S1, S2, and S3.

This CPU core is different than the reference ARM Cortex-A15 core that will appear in competing SoCs around 2H 2012, but it still supports the latest ARM instruction set architecture and should offer comparable performance.

Krait includes a performance enhanced floating-point and SIMD functional unit called VeNom which maintains the industry leading 128-bit data-path, dual-channel memory subsystem, and still uses asynchronous Symmetrical Multi-Processor system or aSMP.

Qualcomm’s aSMP allows independent clock speed and voltage for each CPU core, which they claim results in a 25-40% power improvement over synchronous SMP architectures. Each core can be completely collapsed when not being used, so standby power should be improved.

This approach is quite different from NVIDIA that designed their own Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing (vSMP) technology, so it will be interesting to see which approach delivers the best battery life.

Qualcomm says they evaluated using a similar “companion” core like NVIDIA, but decided that aSMP offered the best power and performance. In fact, Qualcomm even took a shot at NVIDIA in their latest whitepaper by saying “aSMP also eliminates the need for ‘companion’ or ‘little’ cores since each core in an aSMP system can be operated in low power mode due to the independent voltage and frequency control per core thus reducing the need for hypervisors or more complex software management of disparate cores.”

Adreno 225 GPU

The first Snapdragon S4 will be accompanied by the Adreno 225 GPU, which offers a 50% performance boost over the Adreno 220 found in the Snapdragon S3. Most of the performance gains come from the higher GPU clock speed, which is now at 400MHz compared to 266MHz of the Adreno 220.

Qualcomm showed us some preliminary benchmarks which told us the Adreno 225 GPU should out-perform the industry-leading PowerVR SGX543MP2 found in Apple’s A5 SoC.

The Adreno GPU has normally lagged behind other mobile GPUs in raw performance, so it’s nice to see them match the latest from PowerVR. Later this  year Qualcomm will migrate to the Adreno 3xx GPU when they release a quad-core Snapdragon, which promises graphics comparable to the PS3.

LTE world modem

The most notable feature of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 is the industry’s first fully integrated 3G/4G world/multimode LTE Modem. This thing supports all of the world’s leading 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE standards and it integrates GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, FM, and NFC.

What this means to the average consumer is 4G LTE smartphones that are thinner than a pencil. Most of Verizon’s 4G LTE handsets are quite bulky, but the next generation of LTE devices should be some of the thinnest around.

Longer battery life is also in store thanks to a power saving methods that lower power consumption by 20-30%. The new 8960 modem also supports simultaneous voice and LTE data, so you can browse the web at blazing fast speeds while maintaining a voice connection.

Hexagon DSP

In addition to designing custom CPUs, GPUs, and modems, Qualcomm also designs its own custom digital signal processors (DSPs). The Hexagon DSP has always played an important role in the Snapdragon processors, but Qualcomm is now sharing more details as they take it to the next level.

DSPs play an important role in multimedia and improve performance and battery life by freeing up CPU cycles and taking on additional tasks such as multimedia, imaging enhancement, augmented reality, and other functions.

The Hexagon DSP combines the best features of both CPU and DSP architectures. Unique to the Hexagon DSPs is the addition of a memory management unit, symmetric multiprocessing support, and a hypervisor for increased capability.

Qualcomm also recently opened up their DSP access program that allows OEMs to develop custom DSP applications to further enhance the Snapdragon processor operation.

Availability and Competition

Looking at the first half of 2012, it appears to be battle of NVIDIA and Qualcomm. NVIDIA will have the first mobile quad-core processor (at 40nm) and Qualcomm will have the first 28nm dual-core processor.

Qualcomm said we should expect to see devices with the Snapdragon S4 in the first half of 2012. This could happen as soon as early Q1 2012, but it could also slip to Q3.

NVIDIA is expected to regain the performance and power consumption crown with their first quad-core Kal-El (Tegra 3) devices in November, so I expect that Qualcomm is working with their customers to get Snapdragon S4 devices out as soon as possible.

The Snapdragon S4 mobile development platforms that we played with were dated July and we also overhead that some OEMs already had prototype consumer devices they were testing. My suspicion tells me that Qualcomm will wait for Google to release the source code for Ice Cream Sandwich and then release devices once all the optimizations and tweaking is finished.

Samsung and Texas Instruments will also have new processors out in the first half of 2012, but it appears they are offering more of the same tech we have already seen at faster speeds. Samsung will have a dual-core 1.5 GHz Exynos 4212 at 32nm and TI will have a dual-core 1.8 GHz OMAP4470 at 45nm. Both chips should offer improved performance and batter life, but they are not pushing the limits like NVIDIA or Qualcomm.

Overall, I think the Snapdragon S4 will be Qualcomm’s most successful Snapdragon to date. The move to 28nm process technology and new Krait core should offer industry leading performance and battery life.

The biggest question for me at this point remains the exact availability of consumer devices. Anyone looking for a high-end Android tablet this Christmas will obviously go with a Kal-El device, but the decision will not be so clear once the new Snapdragon devices come to market. Qualcomm should regain the performance crown if their claims hold true, but we will have to wait and see.

Which mobile processor are you looking forward to the most? Would you rather pick up a quad-core Kal-El tablet this Christmas or hold out for next year when the Snapdragon S4 arrives?

Update: Someone at Qualcomm really wants you to know their Snapdragon platform is power efficient so they made this video for you to enjoy.

Source: Qualcomm

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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    Rethinking upgrade until spring……. Thanks taylor !

  • Richard Yarrell

    Without question this is pretty special 2012 will be big. Qualcomm and the relationship they have with Htc made it very easy for me to select sprint as my carrier because I decided on the Evo family brand of devices. The upcoming specs that will appear on the 2012 EVO will be ground breaking and will shown to all in May 2012 at CTIA. Mark these specs down :: Quadcore 1.5 to 2.5Ghz processor with 1.5gb of ram 4.7 to 5.0 inch screen with a 10meg camera battery will be 2200 mil amp. With Samsung and the Galaxy Note which has a 5.2 inch screen it’s pretty clear that both Samsung and Htc are pushing technology to another level and the rest meaning LG, MOTO, are all about to be left in the dust.. http://www.intomobile.com/2011/10/09/qualcomm-details-their-new-s4-processors-due-hit-2012-lte-nfc-28-nanometer/

    • MaxSteel


    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      Yeah Sprint’s LTE network should be ready by mid-2012, so I expect the EVO 3 will feature the Snapdragon S4.

      • Richard Yarrell

        Yes sir you are correct it all just fits right. Qualcomm and Htc always saves the best for sprint. I just love the technology ride and have to give Samsung there props too. They push eachother and because of that great competition htc has with Samsung we all have benefited from it and the ride so much fun.

        • MaxSteel

          You’re a true clown. The SGSII on Sprint is so far ahead of the evo, it’s not even funny.

          • Richard Yarrell

            AHEAD based on what??? Your a JOKE at best. Yes very nice device but way ahead that’s very doubtful let’s not forget who put android on the map my friend that was HTC all alone everyone else was late to that party

          • Bpear96

            Richard look at the benchmarks of the galaxy s ii and the evo 3dm gs2 clearly wins, i know benchmarks dont mean much, but when both are running a stock rom the sgs2 still clearly wins in everyday performance, enxynos is just a far better SoC.

            Yea HTC may have been the best, and they did put android on the map, with the g1 and they had/have great devices and made the first nexus..

            But samsung is really getting up there, theres a reason they have made the last 2 nexus’s, theres no reason you should be brainwashed to stick to one brand/line (htc evo) Open your eyes a little there are better devices out there

          • squiddy20

            And you’re wrong again Dick. HTC may have been the first to adopt Android, but it wasn’t the company that put it “on the map”. That was Verizon/Motorola with their Droid campaign. That’s why those that aren’t familiar with Android simply refer to it as “Droid” as in, “Oh cool, is that a Droid phone” when you have a Sprint/AT&T/T-Mobile phone.
            Not to mention that according to Sprint’s own website, the E4GT has a longer talk time, bigger battery, weighs less, has a bigger display, and more internal storage space than your little Evo 3D. So yeah, E4GT IS ahead of the Evo 3D.

          • woah…

            Richard Yarrell…

            stop commentating please…it really annoys me…when extremely stupid comments are made…like yours…

            I like to read comments to relieve stress…not the other way around…

            Reading comments such as yours makes me start to appreciate Apple fan boy extremists…which is not a good thing…

            You are…way way way out there…like outside the universe…

            Please…take a moment to self-reflect…hopefully, by that time you toke that HTC whatever out your ass…and came back to reality…

            Eh…that didn’t sound right…but whatever…

    • Jasonhunterx

      How is that ground breaking thats around corner lol

    • shut up

      shut up. lg and moto gonna kick your htc evo up your ass

      • Richard Yarrell

        LG and MOTOROLA hasn’t done shit in the real world. Name one device on either that can top any evo for that matter. You live in a land on make believe..

        • Bpear96

          Motorola bionic is very good phone, the SoC is better then that in the evo 3d,

          LG new True HD IPS screen is very good, and im sure they will make a VERY decent device soon with that screen and some dual/quad core cpu

          HTC is good but that doesnt been everything else is crap

        • squiddy20

          Ummm, I hate to be a broken record, but “in the real world” it was mostly Motorola that brought Android to prominence with their entire Droid line/ad campaign in the US. That’s why when people who see a smartphone that isn’t an iPhone generally ask “is that a Droid phone?”. Yeah, that was Motorola.
          And again, to correct your sorry ass, the saying goes more like “you live in a land OF make believe”. If you’re going to try insulting people about not living in “the real world”, maybe you should get with that “real world” before doing so.

        • Sway_212

          Holy crap…..every commentnof yours has been hidden due to it’s low ratings! You are soo retarded in posting a decent comment!

          • squiddy20

            Yeah, I’m pretty certain that’s a new record. All of Dick’s ridiculous comments hidden in less than 20 hours. Amazing how much people hate the guy and he still can’t get a clue…

        • Darkseider

          Well I will name two from Moto and one from LG. These are not solely based on technical merit but for putting Android on the map. First and foremost the OG Droid from Motorola. Then we have the Droid X which is on par with the EVO sans 4G. Lastly from a purely technical stand point the LG G2X which is a beast of a phone with an absolutely stunning screen and incredible performance.

  • spencer smith

    well i am holding out for a kal-el tegra 3 tab its simply a no brainer four cores working in all four when needed and powering down to two cores for less hungry applications like web browsing and saving battery life running super cool . I dont know much about quallcomm but i know one thing for sure NVIDIA KICKS BUTT EVERYTIME IN MY BOOK !

  • xsynth

    The S4 sounds very appealing. I’m probably going to skip the Prime and just wait for the ICS update on my Nexus S, then upgrade to a quad core when something nice comes out

  • Kevinthebox

    Its good that Qualcomm is stepping up or they risk getting stepped on by nvidia, Texas Instruments, and Samsung. I have no doubt that Qualcomm’s S4 SoC will outperform and obliterate battery life comparisons with other SoC’s but I am worried about the GPU. Adreno always seems to catch up a little too late, inregards to the PowerVR graphics card. The Asynchronous cores should make the Krait lightning fast, probably faster than Kal-el devices.

    • CTown

      I, too, thought the S3 was disappointing. I really think the S1 (with the Nexus One) helped change Android from just a free OS to make a smartphone with (remember how slow the G1 and Click were?) into a powerful platform on which to build amazing applications on a spectrum of devices.

      With this release I think Qualcomm has done it again. HTC and Sony will have a platform to make a superior Android phones on! Qualcomm really came through power and performance wise. I really can’t wait to see how HTC and Sony further evolve the form factor and software of their respective devices (like how great HTC’S Amaze 4G and Sony’s Xperia Ark looks)!

  • http://www.devolute.net Ian P

    > “Common sense might lead you to believe that more cores are better, but it’s actually a lot more complex than that.”

    tl;dr: Qualcomm didn’t make sufficient investment in multi-core chipsets. Agh! Panic!

  • kwills88

    I just hope this means better Batteries also…makes no sense having a super phone when their batteries are their kryptonite

  • SherlockHomeboy

    This will only push the market as a whole forward. I can’t wait to see what we get from Samsung and the rest because of Qualcomm’s innovation. Competition at its finest!

  • Lucian Armasu

    CPU wise it will be interesting. GPU wise not so much, at least not until Adreno 300. Adreno 225 is only 50% faster which would probably only put it around the same performance with Mali 400 in Galaxy S II, if that. But don’t forget the new Mali in the dual core 1.5 Ghz Exynos is also 50% faster than the previous one. So it looks like Qualcomm is once again behin in graphics performance.

    • metafor

      That depends. Recently, there’s been a lot of talk of significant performance increases from an updated driver set even on the current Adreno.

      Looking at some of the very early benchmarks of the Galaxy S2 for T-Mobile (same chipset as Sensation), and at 1.5GHz, the GPU performance in Nenamark matches that of Exynos. I’d wager this is related to Samsung running a better driver stack.

      Time will tell but it’s clear there’s a lot of room for performance improvement from the subpar drivers shipping with HTC’s phones now. A look at WP7′s games is very telling.

  • Nathan

    Well I can’t upgrade until Feb. so I have time to make my choices. But most likely ill buy a new phone before that :)

  • Ichigo

    Qualcomm makes good CPUs but people don’t realize it because of HTC bad coding.

  • Dirge

    Sounds good for HTC fans, but I’m waiting for the quad-core successor to the Exynos SoC. :)

  • Hazz


    I’ve been reading this site since you and Clark started it, and I have to say, this is a great article, Taylor. I noticed you guys started cracking down on letting the other writer’s personal opinions interfere, but to be honest, I recently haven’t been following A&ME as much because it’s just been troll bait. Maybe you could make a branch off and have articles just by you. This is top quality no doubt, and I would love to continually come back to read articles more like this, but then again, maybe I’m not your demographic. I mean, I like the rumors of the nexus, but I don’t care about minecraft, press events, and opinions on *insert carrier* doing *insert atrocity*. I can real all about that crap on engadget, they’ll make a post about the weather changing. I want the results: this phone has these specs, this architecture does those things, new os improvements with update x.y and acquisitions that shape the future of android. I think opinions are useless, and the rumor mill is right up there with it. I think we can all expect a new phone by *insert OEM* every week or two.


  • http://youtube.com/user/jawckamoe Marcus

    “Later this year Qualcomm will migrate to the Adreno 3xx GPU when they release a quad-core Snapdragon, which promises graphics comparable to the PS3.”

    That is amazing. I just find it crazy to think that smartphones will have console level graphics in the next year or so. And personally, I’d stick with Qualcomm’s S4 later next year because I want to see how it ends up. I’d love to see how their mobile processors could improve performance and battery life.

    • MaxSteel

      The next consoles will be coming out in a year or two and which will likely expand the gap so far it won’t even be close. Mobile will always be playing catch up.

  • Markus

    I have the evo 3d and yes it is fast and smooth but after playing with the epic touch that thing eats up the 3d. I have had a couple of htcs and qualcom seems to fall short of processing power compared to a processor like the exynos. Look at the gs2 Hercules powered by a 1.5 snapdragon. It has to be 1.5 ghz to compete with the 1.2 ghz exynos.. In other words qualcom need to step up fast before they are left in the dust by nvidia and the exynos. I’ll end it with this Qualcom processors are not at all bad but freaking suck compared to others like nvidia and the exynos processors.

  • Zhi Hao

    Hopefully with ICS, all phones will be really smooth. I have a DHD, and it lags a little, so I hope ICS fixes that :)

    • Dude

      no ICS for DHD. but sense update will come ,probably sense ,3.5!most likely!

      • Vulf

        Seeing as the EVO 4G is not going to receive support for much longer and was released more recently than the DHD, I doubt it will get ICS. Sorry. I don’t even think Sense 3.5 will hit it. Why don’t you upgrade :P

  • Jhoravi

    Does this “Hexagon DSP” functions similar to cortex-m3 of the OMAP4?

  • Vulf

    It really saddens me to see Android users constantly fighting over which handset is better or worse when honestly there is not real way to measure it. With a constant divide in the Android community, its really a weakness to the Apple Fanboy’s attitude where they all bunch together. Even though they don’t know why the iPhone is better than an android (BEKAUZ ITZ DA IFONE!), they still support each other when confronted. Everyone should stop arguing among one another because at the end of the day, we all made the right choice as we are running the greatest mobile OS. Android.