Qualcomm's Newest Mobile Processor to Juice Up Mobile Computing

Multi-core is now standard in computing, but mobile phones? Wireless telecommunications giant Qualcomm is embracing the idea, somewhat, with its own dual-chip strategy.

Qualcomm announced at the Computex show that it is shipping its first dual-CPU Snapdragon processors, a pair of chips based on the ARM technology and tuned for mobile computing customers. The two processors work in tandem to provide some pretty hefty processing power by smartphone standards.

The company isn't saying who its customers are just yet. Normally when a new processor is announced, launch customers are announced with it, but Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) is keeping a lid on this. Company officials did not return requests for comment.

Snapdragon is a powerful ARM-based processor aimed and optimized for smartphones, but up to now has been a single chip offering, though it ran at 1GHz, making it one of the fastest smartphone processors on the market. The processor is known for its low power consumption and long battery life and powers newer phones, including the Droid Incredible, HTC EVO 4G, and the Google Nexus One.

The two new Snapdragon chips -- with speeds now up to 1.5GHz -- will make for the third generation of what Qualcomm calls its Mobile Station Modem (MSM).

The MSM8260 processor supports HSPA+, also known as Evolved High-Speed Packet Access. While a 3G technology, it's extremely fast, running at up to 56 megabits per second of downlink speed, and 22 megabits per second of uplink speed.

The MSM8660 supports multi-mode HSPA+/CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev. B protocols, plus it comes with a built-in GPU with 3D/2D acceleration engines for Open GLES 2.0 and Open VG 1.1 acceleration, 1080p video encoding/decoding, dedicated low-power audio engine, integrated low-power GPS, and support for 24-bit WXGA 1280 x 800 resolution displays.

"Qualcomm's first-generation Snapdragon chipsets set a new standard for advanced smartphones and smartbook devices, and our second-generation solutions are already shipping in volume," Steve Mollenkopf, executive vice president of Qualcomm and president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, said in a statement.

Balancing performance and power consumption has always been a balancing act, Gerry Purdy, principal analyst for mobile and wireless at MobileTrax, told InternetNews.com. But he said there is a way to have your cake and eat it, too.

Chip makers "reduce the lithography of the design so they miniaturize the amount of silicon used in the processor, so the electricity is going through a smaller piece of silicon at a faster rate," he said.

There is clear demand on the part of buyers for a processor like this, he added.

"People are clearly doing more on the data side of a smartphone at a much higher rate than talk time," he said. "They want to use rich media, they are using a lot more apps, using more graphics."

So vendors have to meet that demand. "They can if they use advanced design principles," Purdy said. "All firms today are shrinking the silicon plus adding things like multi-core. Smaller silicon requires less power and multi-core is important for all this rich media."

Update corrects an earlier version of this article to clarify the technical specifications of the new dual-CPU products.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at