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Why Qualcomm Thinks You Should Develop on Snapdragon


During the last session of the second day of Qualcomm’s UPLINQ 2012 developer conference, Leon Farasati, Sr. Product Manager, talked about why developers should develop on Qualcomm Snapdragon. The session was aptly named ?The Advantages of Using the Qualcomm Snapdragon MDP?. While there was no doubt that Leon had built upon some of the themes from Raj’s supersession earlier that day, Leon focused on the tools and features of those tools that enable developers to make better apps using Snapdragon. Leon also covered the MDP and DragonBoard as well as the QRD, but went into more detail about each of them and compared the differences between this generation and the past generations of both CPU and GPU.

When it came to explaining these different platforms and performance improvements, Qualcomm spent very little time talking about their competitors. The majority of Leon’s slides had more to do with Qualcomm’s improvements over their own previous generations than they did about their competitors. Leon started by talking about the MDP and DragonBoards discussed during

He started by talking about the S4 family of CPUs which provide best in class performance using Krait CPU cores that use a 28nm process to deliver best in class energy efficiency as well. He compared the S4 family to past Qualcomm processors like those from the S1 family of Snapdragon chips. The S4 quad-core APQ8064A has 12x the performance of the S1 Snapdragon chip which came out in 2008. So, in a mere four years, Qualcomm has successfully increased their performance by a factor of 12 (using Core-Mark as a benchmark). Their S1 processors were the first 1Ghz mobile CPUs, their S2 processors were the first 1.4Ghz mobile CPUs, their S3 processors were the first aSMP dual core mobile CPUs, and now in 2012 the S4 is the first to deliver ‘next gen architecture’ with LTE at 1.7Ghz. Leon also showed a demonstration of the S4 quad-core’s performance and power management by showing four different video streams simultaneously. With this demo he was able to show how each core operates at a different frequency depending on how much processing power is needed from each frame. In addition, he demonstrated how he could turn off the videos and the cores could immediately shut off and stop consuming power. He explained that this was possible due to their power collapsing cores that consume zero power when they are not in use.

Leon continued by talking about Qualcomm’s leadership in LTE going back to 2010 with the MDM 9200 and 9600 which were the world’s first LTE/3G chipsets in a single package. These were followed up in 2011 and 2012 with the MDM 9×15 and MSM 8960 (Snapdragon S4) that resulted in Qualcomm’s and the world’s first SoC with integrated LTE baseband chip using TSMC’s 28nm fabrication process. All of these LTE modems, however, have been LTE category 3 in terms of rated speed, which limits their maximum theoretical downlink capability to 100 Mbit/s and maximum theoretical uplink to 50 Mbit/s. With the introduction of the MDM 9×25 series of modems in 2013, devices using Qualcomm’s chips will be capable of 150 Mbit/s downlink and 50 Mbit/s uplink. Qualcomm’s LTE roadmap, however, did not detail any mobile SoCs that could utilize this newest category 4 modem technology, but we are certain that it exists and is likely to be available alongside the MDM 9×25 in 2013. Additionally, this chip will be able to deliver 84 Mbit/s HSPA+ as opposed to the current DC-HSPA+ which is only capable of downlink speeds of 42 Mbit/s or less. This could mean a significant improvement in speeds for other parts of the world using HSPA+ instead of LTE.

After talking about the CPUs and modems, Leon moved on to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips? Adreno GPUs. Once again, there was basically no talk about competitors but rather a comparison to themselves. This humble approach is what we believe has allowed Qualcomm to grow rapidly without becoming complacent in the face of their competition. The latest Adreno GPU from Qualcomm, the Adreno 320, is currently being bundled with their S4 MSM8960 Pro dual-core as well as their APQ8064A quad-core. The Adreno 320 delivers more than 10-15x the performance of the Adreno 200 and 3x the performance of the Adreno 225 which is present in some of Qualcomm’s lower end S4 offerings. The Adreno 320 is simply a beast and we cannot wait to get a chance to test it out against some other mobile GPUs to see how well it games.

He then detailed the Snapdragon tools for developers which include both hardware and software tools to help developers develop for a broad array of operating systems as well as hardware configurations. The Snapdragon Ecosystem of operating systems includes Android, Bada, Blackberry, BrewMP, ChromeOS, Windows and Windows Phone. You will notice that almost every single OS is supported with the exception of one, iOS. This is primarily due to the fact that Qualcomm does not have any of their SoCs in Apple’s iPhones or iPads. The is because of Apple’s death grip on their ecosystem and that includes the SoCs, since Apple designs their own and manufactures them with Samsung. Qualcomm does, however, support iOS in Vuforia, their augmented reality platform, which they clearly do in order to promote greater adoption across all platforms.

Another feature of Snapdragon’s tools is the DragonBoard, which is an evolution of the MDP program. The DragonBoards for the hardware guys that wanted a platform to test their own sensors on. The DragonBoards are an open board with a lot of connectors which enable manufacturers of lower cost components to get themselves included onto OEM’s BOMs to cut costs while confirming compatibility. The DragonBoards allow for Qualcomm to create a broader hardware ecosystem around themselves and to make it easier to build phones using their chips by having thousands of qualified components readily available for use in BOMs. The Dragonboard will be getting updated with the APQ8064 alongside the MDP tablet.

Finally, Leon showed off the Trepn profiler which is a tool that has been in use in many of Qualcomm’s previous MDPs. The profiler will soon be available for download for developers and not only available on Qualcomm MDP devices. Trepn allows you to view exactly how much power is being consumed by each core while the core is being used in real time. Furthermore, it enables for a graphical overlay while the application is actually running to view what is going on with the CPU while at the same time observing what is on the screen. Trepn also supports the ability to export data via SD card if the phone has an SD card. Using Trepn allows developers to see exactly how much power their applications are using and at which points their applicati
ons are using the most power in order to optimize their applications for better battery life on Snapdragon.

The tablet that Leon was using to show off the specs was Qualcomm’s MDP APQ8064 which is a tablet based on Qualcomm’s latest quad-core APQ8064 SoC. It sports a 10.1" multi-touch display capable of 1366×768 resolution powered by Adreno 320 graphics (built into the APQ8064 SoC). This is in addition to 2GB of LPDDR and 32GB of eMMC storage. Looking at those specs, one would think it was a laptop or Windows 8 based tablet device. It also sports a broad array of connectors including a docking station connector, MicroUSB HS OTG (High Speed, On The Go), MHL for HDMI output, 3.5mm audio jack, DC-in barrel charger and a microSD card slot. The good thing about MHL and OTG support is that MHL is the future standard for wired video playback and allows for the charging of the MHL device when connected to a display. OTG support means that you can essentially connect any USB storage device as long as a driver and adapter (from MicroUSB to USB) are provided.

The tablet also features a broad array of sensors including Stereo3D 1080P video recording as well as a 13 megapixel main camera with flash. Qualcomm also upped the ante by including a 2MP front facing camera which shows off the full optical capabilities of the APQ8064. When it comes to audio, the APQ8064 MDP is no slouch, sporting surround sound stereo speakers as well as 7 microphones. The possibilities are nearly endless when considering what could be done with 7 microphones. In addition, it sports FluencePRO (noise cancellation software) and Ultrasound. It also has a 3D accelerometer, 3-axis gyro and compass, ambient light/proximity sensor, temperature and pressure sensor, and a fingerprint reader as well.