Qualcomm impressed at the 2012 Consumer Electronic Show in January. At the show it talked about its transition down to the 28 nm node (via Taiwan Semiconductor new processes) and pushing Snapdragon 4 (S4) system-on-a-chip designs onto the market.
Developers' first taste of S4 will be delivered via the MSM8960 Mobile Development Platform (MDP), which will be distributed at the 2012 Mobile World Congress, which starts Feb. 27 in Barcelona, Spain. But AnandTech scored an early unit and has been busy benchmarking it.
How does the fourth generation Snapdragon fare? To quote AnandTech:
The CPU performance advantage... is insane.
The super-chip's performance comes, in part, thanks to the new Krait core, which is built on a licensed ARMv7 instruction set from ARM Holdings plc. (LON:ARM). The new core is similar, in some ways, to the ARM Cortex-A15 intellectual property core from ARM Holdings.
The configuration tested by AnandTech was the MSM 8960 MDP, a dual-core 1.5 GHz design. Quad-core and single-core variants will also be available. The cores onboard pack twice the L2 cache (1 MB) of their predecessor, a deeper 11-stage pipeline a 50% wider instruction decoder (3-wide), and twice the execution ports (7). The cores support out-of-order execution and 128-bit NEON instructions.
In certain math-heavy (e.g. Linpack) or cache-heavy benchmarks, the S4 more than doubles the scores of its closest competitors -- the Motorola Droid RAZR (1.2 GHz dual-core OMAP4430 from Texas Instruments, Inc. ) and the Galaxy S II (also OMAP4430), and the Galaxy Nexus (1.2 GHz dual-core OMAP4460). In browser benchmarks, the new S4 chip is 20-35 percent faster.
These results as a whole simply quantify what we've felt during our use of the MSM8960 MDP: this is the absolute smoothest we've ever seen Ice Cream Sandwich run.
The on-die Adreno 225 GPU also receives a nice bump. While it does not dominate like the CPU, the transition to 28 nm allowed Qualcomm to squeeze Direct3D 9_3 and bump the clock speed to 400 MHz, up substantially from the 266 MHz Adreno 220.
The improvements allow the Adreno 225 to trade blows with the PowerVR SGX543 MP2 (Imagination Technologies Group plc. ) in Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone 4S and ARM Holdings' Mali 400 in the Galaxy S II. In both cases, the Adreno 225 proves its mettle, offering performance that can match or beat the competition in some cases.
In its power benchmarks, AnandTech used the platform's built in power-measuring tools, the Trepn Profiler software. The results showed that in periods of modest activity (e.g. web browsing) a single Krait core was used, with the second core and GPU only occasionally becoming activity. Power performance hovered around 400-750 milliwatts, with a peak consumption of about 750 milliwatts per core. Idle periods showed about 150 milliwatts.
During demanding GPU activity like games, the platform could suck down 800-1200 milliwatts.
The average Android cell phone has been a 1600 and 2000 milliwatt-hour battery, so this indicates that the phone is good for about 3-4 hours of web browsing and 1.5-2 hours of gaming. Again, this lower battery life is thanks to the development platform's larger 4-inch display, much as the iPhone's strong battery life is thanks to its small 3.5-inch display.
The development model was running Android 4.0.3.
Overall, the S4 is likely to see heavy pickup in Windows Phone models. It also could potentially win business from Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930), who experimented with the S3 in some of its Galaxy S II models.