Snapdragon is a suite of system on a chip (SoC) semiconductor products designed and marketed by Qualcomm for mobile devices. The Snapdragon central processing unit (CPU) uses the ARM RISC instruction set, and a single SoC may include multiple CPU cores, a graphics processing unit (GPU), a wireless modem, and other software and hardware to support a smartphone's global positioning system (GPS), camera, gesture recognition and video. Snapdragon semiconductors are embedded in devices of various systems, including Android and Windows Phone devices. They are also used for netbooks, in cars, wearable devices and other devices.
The first Snapdragon product to be made available to consumer device manufacturers was the QSD8250, which was released in November 2007. It included the first 1 GHz processor for mobile phones. Qualcomm introduced its "Krait" microarchitecture in the second generation of Snapdragon SoCs in 2011, allowing each processor core to adjust its speed based on the device's needs. At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, Qualcomm introduced the first of the Snapdragon 800 series and renamed prior models as the 200, 400 and 600 series. Several new iterations have been introduced since, such as the Snapdragon 805, 810, 615 and 410. Qualcomm re-branded its modem products under the Snapdragon name in December 2014.
Qualcomm announced it was developing the Scorpion central processing unit (CPU) in November 2005. The Snapdragon system on chip (SoC) was announced in November 2006 and included the Scorpion processor, as well as other semiconductors. This also included Qualcomm's first custom Hexagon digital signal processor (DSP).
According to a Qualcomm spokesperson, it was named Snapdragon, because "Snap and Dragon sounded fast and fierce." The following month, Qualcomm acquired Airgo Networks for an undisclosed amount; it said Airgo's 802.11a/b/g and 802.11n Wi-Fi technology would be integrated with the Snapdragon product suite. Early versions of Scorpion had a processor core design similar to the Cortex-A8.
The first Snapdragon shipments were of the QSD8250 in November 2007. According to CNET, Snapdragon's claim to fame was having the first 1 GHz mobile phone processor. Most smartphones at the time were using 500 MHz processors. The first generation of Snapdragon products supported a 720p resolution, 3D graphics and a 12-megapixel camera. By November 2008, 15 device manufacturers decided to embed Snapdragon semiconductors in their consumer electronics products.
In November 2008, Qualcomm announced it would also compete against Intel in the netbook processor market with dual-core Snapdragon system-on-chips planned for late 2009. It demonstrated a Snapdragon processor that consumed less power than Intel chips announced around the same time and claimed it would also cost less when released. That same month, Qualcomm introduced a Snapdragon-based protoytpe netbook called Kayak that used 1.5 GHz processors and was intended for developing markets.
In May 2009, Java SE was ported and optimized for Snapdragon. At the November 2009 Computex Taipei show, Qualcomm announced the QSD8650A addition to the Snapdragon product suite, which was based on 45 nanometer manufacturing processes. It featured a 1.2 GHz processor and had lower power consumption than prior models.
By late 2009, smartphone manufacturers announced they would be using Snapdragon SoCs in the Acer Liquid Metal, HTC HD2, Toshiba TG01 and the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10. Lenovo announced the first netbook product using Snapdragon SoCs that December. According to PC World, mobile devices using Snapdragon had better battery life and were smaller in size than those using other SoCs.
By June 2010, Snapdragon chips were embedded in 20 available consumer devices and incorporated into 120 product designs in development. Apple had a dominant market position for smartphones at the time and did not incorporate Snapdragon into any of its products. The success of Snapdragon therefore relied on competing Android phones, such as Google's Nexus One and the HTC Incredible, challenging Apple's market position. Android devices did end up taking market share from the iPhone and predominantly used Snapdragon.
There was an "unconfirmed but widely circulated report" speculating that Apple was going to start using Snapdragon SoCs in Verizon-based iPhones. As of 2012, Apple was still using their own Ax semiconductor designs.
Support for the Windows Phone 7 operating systems was added to Snapdragon in October 2010.
By 2011 Snapdragon was embedded in Hewlett Packard's WebOS devices and had a 50% market share of a $7.9 billion smartphone processor market. By 2012, the Snapdragon S4 (Krait core) had taken a dominant share from other Android system-on-chips like Nvidia Tegra and Texas Instruments OMAP which caused the latter to exit the market. As of July 2014, the market share of Android phones had grown to 84.6 percent, and Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips powered 41% of smartphones. By 2015, Snapdragon was used in most non-Apple smartphones. However, the September 2013 debut of Apple's 64-bit A7 chip in the iPhone 5S forced Qualcomm to rush out a competing 64-bit solution, despite the capable performance of the Snapdragon 800/801/805, since their existing Krait cores were only 32-bit. The first 64-bit SoCs, the Snapdragon 808 and 810, were rushed to market using generic Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53 cores and suffered from overheating problems and throttling, particularly the 810, which led to Samsung ditching Snapdragon for its Galaxy S6 flagship phone.
Snapdragon chips are also used in most Android-based smartwatches, Snapdragon products have also been used in virtual reality products, in vehicles like the Maserati Quattroporte and Cadillac XTS and in other applications.
In June 2010, Qualcomm began sampling the third generation of Snapdragon products; two dual-core 1.2 GHz system on chips (SoC) called the Mobile Station Modem (MSM) 8260 and 8660. The 8260 was for GSM, UMTS and HSPA+ networks, while the 8660 was for CDMA2000 and EVDO networks. That November Qualcomm announced the MSM8960 for LTE networks.
In early 2011, Qualcomm announced a new processor architecture called Krait, which used the ARM v7 instruction set, but was based on Qualcomm's own processor design. The processors were called S4 and had a feature named Asynchronous Symmetrical Multi-Processing (aSMP), meaning each processor core adjusted its clock speed and voltage based on the device's activity in order to optimize battery usage. Prior models were renamed to S1, S2 and S3 to distinguish each generation.
The S4-based generation of Snapdragon SoCs began shipping to product manufacturers with the MSM8960 in February 2012. In benchmark tests by Anandtech, the MSM8960 had better performance than any other processor tested. In an overall system benchmark, the 8960 obtained a score of 907, compared to 528 and 658 for the Galaxy Nexus and HTC Rezound respectively. In a Quadrant benchmark test, which assesses raw processing power, a dual-core Krait processor had a score of 4,952, whereas the quad-core Tegra 3 was just under 4,000. The quad-core version, APQ8064, was made available in July 2012. It was the first Snapdragon SoC to use Qualcomm's Adreno 320 graphics processing unit (GPU).
Adoption of Snapdragon contributed to Qualcomm's transition from a wireless modem company to one that also produces a wider range of hardware and software for mobile devices. In July 2011 Qualcomm acquired certain assets from GestureTek in order to incorporate its gesture recognition intellectual property into Snapdragon SoCs. In mid-2012 Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon software development kit (SDK) for Android devices at the Uplinq developer conference. The SDK includes tools for facial recognition, gesture recognition, noise cancellation and audio recording. That November Qualcomm acquired some assets from EPOS Development in order to integrate its stylus and gesture recognition technology into Snapdragon products. It also collaborated with Microsoft to optimize Windows Phone 8 for Snapdragon semiconductors.
Qualcomm unveiled its next-gen Snapdragon 835 flagship SoC on November 17, 2016, which will be built by Samsung using its 10-nanometer FinFET process. The new processor will have 30 percent more parts within the same space and will have 27 percent better performance with 40 percent less power. Due to Samsung's role in manufacturing the chip, its mobile division also acquired the initial inventory of the chip. This means that no other OEM will be able to manufacture products containing the 835 until the release of Samsung's next flagship device.
Description and current models
Snapdragon system on chip products typically include a graphics processing unit (GPU), a global positioning system (GPS) and a cellular modem integrated into a single package. It has software included that operates graphics, video and picture-taking. There are 14 different Snapdragon products under the 200, 400, 600 and the 800 series spanning from low to high-end respectively. Some of their components include the Adreno graphics processing, the Qualcomm Hexagon DSP and processors using Qualcomm's S4 processor architecture. In addition to smartphones, the 400 series is used in smart watches and the 602A is intended for electronics in cars.
The current Snapdragon naming scheme was implemented after the Snapdragon 800 family was announced at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show; prior models were renamed to the 200, 400 or 600 series. The 400 family is entry-level, the 600 is mass-market or mid-range, and 800 family is for high-end or flagship phones.
The entry-level 200 series was expanded with six new processors using 28 nanometer manufacturing and dual or quad-core options in June 2013. The Snapdragon 805 was released that November. The 410, which is intended for low-cost phones in developing nations, was announced the following month. In January 2014, Qualcomm introduced a modified version of the Snapdragon 600 called 602A that is intended for in-car infotainment screens, backup cameras, and other driver assistance products. The quad-core Snapdragon 610 and eight-core 615 were announced in February 2014. The Snapdragon 808 and 810 were announced in April 2014. The newest iteration in Snapdragon 800 series is Snapdragon 821, which is the second Qualcomm SOC that is built on a 14 nm architecture, the 820 being the first. Both use custom Kryo cores. As of August 2016, the Snapdragon 821, which is a higher-clocked version of the Snapdragon 820, contained the fastest processor in the Snapdragon line.
The entry-level Snapdragon 210, intended for low-cost phones, was announced in September 2014. In February 2015, Qualcomm re-branded its stand-alone modem products under the Snapdragon name; they were distinguished from SoCs using the "x" designation, such as the X7 or X12 modem.
According to CNET, these phones were growing in US market share and ranked highly in CNET reviews due to their responsiveness. Snapdragon SoCs are also used in most Windows phones and most phones entering the market in mid-2013. The LG G2 was the first phone to market using the Snapdragon 800 in August 2013.
Benchmark tests of the Snapdragon 800's processor by PC Magazine found that its processing power was comparable to similar products from Nvidia. Benchmarks of the Snapdragon 805 found that the Adreno 420 GPU resulted in a 40 percent improvement in graphics processing over the Adreno 330 in the Snapdragon 800, though there was only slight differences in processor benchmarks. Benchmarks of the Snapdragon 801 inside an HTC One found a "bump all around" in benchmark improvements over the 800. In 2015, Samsung's decision not to use the Snapdragon 810 in its Galaxy S6 had a significant detrimental impact on Snapdragon's revenues and reputation. Benchmark tests by Ars Technica confirmed rumors that the 810 under-performed lower-end models and had overheating issues. A Qualcomm spokesperson said these tests were done with early versions of the 810 that weren’t ready for commercial use. An updated version was released and was found to moderately improve thermal throttling, GPU clock speeds, memory latency, and memory bandwidth when tested in a commercial product, the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro.
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