Qualcomm wants to take a leadership position on 10nm manufacturing technology, and plans to have the Snapdragon 835 in devices by the first half of 2017. This quick 10nm ramp will happen in partnership with Samsung, which also led the industry on early 14nm technology. It also suggests Apple may have shifted the majority of its orders over to TSMC, since in the past it’s been Apple that locked up early capacity and volume shipments at foundry manufacturers.
“We are excited to continue working together with Samsung in developing products that lead the mobile industry,” said Keith Kressin, senior vice president, product management, Qualcomm Technologies. Inc. “Using the new 10nm process node is expected to allow our premium tier Snapdragon 835 processor to deliver greater power efficiency and increase performance while also allowing us to add a number of new capabilities that can improve the user experience of tomorrow’s mobile devices.”
Right now, Qualcomm is still keeping its cards close to its vest, as far as Snapdragon 835’s CPU or GPU cores. We only know that the platform will contain a USB-C compatible version of Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4 technology. Presumably we’ll see some modest tweaks to both CPU and GPU architectures rather than brand-new core designs (though a new GPU cores isn’t outside the realm of possibility).
Fudzilla has some interesting information on how mobile technology is now driving the push towards new foundry nodes that’s worth mentioning:
There are several reasons for this. First, the advent of smartphones means there’s a tremendous amount of revenue flowing into these product segments that didn’t previously exist. In the past, it was GPUs and other high-end hardware that drove new node investments. But the combined profits of AMD and Nvidia in the GPU market (even if you throw in consoles) pale in comparison to what TSMC and Samsung make off mobile.
Second, the sheer costs of building newer nodes have made those early costs less attractive to companies like AMD and Nvidia as well. This had its own knock-on effect, where the foundries now pursue secondary nodes that are less attractive to high-power manufacturers in the first place. We’re already hearing rumors that 10nm, like 20nm, may be a short-lived node for some companies, and it wouldn’t surprise us if AMD and Nvidia opt for second-generation 14nm hardware and skip 10nm altogether. This could be somewhat complicated if one foundry focuses on 10nm and one does not (Samsung and TSMC appear to be pursuing somewhat different strategies here, while GlobalFoundries is skipping 10nm altogether and heading straight for 7nm). But whichever nodes shake out as the long-lived nodes at TSMC, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries, it now makes more sense for many customers to follow the adoption curve rather than trying to lead it. For the foundries, the opposite is true – whichever company can offer a node first tends to capture a significant amount of revenue from that node. As always, keep in mind that the foundry nodes are also different between Intel and the pure-play foundries – what Samsung and TSMC call 10nm isn’t going to correspond to what Intel refers to as 10nm.
If Qualcomm can hit 10nm before its rivals, it should give the company an early lead, but Apple remains the mobile company to beat as far as CPU performance and efficiency are concerned. Even the Snapdragon 821 doesn’t compare well against Apple’s A10 Fusion single-threaded performance. And while Android devices tend to win multi-core performance comparisons on sheer core count, Apple builds an extremely competitive device overall, with best-in-class GPU performance.
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