CES 2017: Here Comes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835

Posted on January 4, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 44 Comments

CES 2017: Here Comes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835

The disrupter has been unveiled at last. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to meet the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.

Right, I know. It doesn’t sound that exciting. And if you take Qualcomm’s claims for this chip and compare them to what it said about previous generation mobile chipsets like the Snapdragon 820, you will see that it using similar language, similar positioning.

And sure enough, the Snapdragon 835 offers tremendous advantages to the smartphones and tablets that will eventually carry this chipset. According to at least one test, it even bests Apple’s own mobile chipset, long held as the performance and power management champ. But that’s not what the Snapdragon 835 is all about, not really. No, this innocuous-sounding upgrade is really about chipping away—yes, pardon the pun—at Intel’s dominance of the portable PC market.

The Snapdragon 835 is smaller and more efficient than Intel’s designs, obviously: It is built with an ultra-thin 10nm manufacturing process at a time when Intel has been stuck at 14nm for three chipset generations. That is, of course, expected given the nature of the devices these two products currently support. But the 835 is also significantly smaller—35 percent smaller, in fact—than its predecessor, the Snapdragon 820. And that is … impressive.

“This pivotal size reduction and efficiency boost allow device manufacturers to design thinner premium-tier consumer devices (smartphones, VR/AR head-mounted displays, IP cameras, tablets, mobile PCs, and more) with larger batteries that run on less power and last longer,” Qualcomm explains. “All told, Snapdragon 835 is engineered to use 25 percent less power than the previous generation, which means huge battery savings.”

Note that comment about “mobile PCs.” This, to me, is the big news with the Snapdragon 835. This is about Qualcomm positioning itself for the “mobile first, cloud first” world that Microsoft talks about, about pushing into a new market that, quite frankly, has been under-served if not abused by Intel and its inability to make this transition itself.

There are all kinds of things going on with this chipset, which is a “system on a chip” or SoC design like previous Qualcomm/ARM (and Intel) chipsets. The aforementioned battery life improvements. Faster 3D graphic rendering that is aimed at the VR market. 3D positional audio support. Improved support for camera and video performance. And an integrated Snapdragon X16 Gigabit LTE modem, which supports 802.11ad multi-gigabit, and integrated 2×2 11ac MU-MIMO Wi-Fi.

Two of those features—improved battery life and the integrated connectivity functionality—were specifically called out by Microsoft’s Terry Myerson at WinHEC last month when he announced that full Windows 10 would be headed to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.

I am excited by this potential future for the PC, and if you consider Microsoft’s half-steps into a 3-in-1-type device with Windows 10 Mobile-based phones and Continuum, you can see why it’s so important for the software giant to get this one right. After all, the 835’s improvements aren’t just for Windows. And we know that it’s only a matter of time before the Android world starts plotting its own 3-in-1 phone designs—that is, phones that can transform into a PC when docked and connected to a keyboard, mouse, and display—and Google adds this support natively to the Android OS.

I’ll be writing on that topic soon. For now, know this: The race is on.

 

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