Qualcomm: Tegra 3 is overkill core-bragging

Qualcomm has dismissed NVIDIA's much-trumpeted five core Tegra 3 chipset as mere spec-sheet bragging, arguing that the company is unconcerned by HTC's defection from solely using Snapdragon cores. "No one company can stick to one supplier forever" Sy Choudury, director of product management at Qualcomm told us in an interview at Mobile World Congress this week. As for the HTC One X, the smartphone which will use Tegra 3 at least in non-AT&T form, Choudury argues the 4+1 chipset is more about marketing than actually delivering usable performance. "There's a difference between building devices to suit typical uses, and building for spec-sheet bragging" he said.

At the heart of Qualcomm's argument is the current nature of smartphone and tablet usage. "There's really not enough threads in a typical smartphone use-case to warrant even a third core" Choudury believes, suggesting that in fact the same is true with notebooks and desktops. Qualcomm's own software engineers use the same laptops to output complex code for Snapdragons as Choudury and the rest of the team use for email and browsing, he points out.

As Choudury sees it, the speed and core-count race is pretty much over in smartphone and tablet chipsets just as it has quietened down in desktop processors. Instead, Qualcomm is chasing usable refinement rather than on-paper success, he says.

[aquote]There are still so many gaps in Android browser performance[/aquote]

"There are still so many gaps in the Android browser in terms of performance" Choudury points out. Qualcomm has been working on streamlining the connection between the Snapdragon modem and the browser, and has managed to achieve a 30-percent reduction in first page load time and a subsequent 22-percent cut in page reloads when over a 3G or 4G connection. The enhanced browser and Snapdragon performance also means devices running Qualcomm's chips score 68-percent higher in V8 JavaScript benchmarking than Tegra 3 devices, the product exec claims.

They're not the only improvements. The Snapdragon S4 can offload CSS Transforms processing to the GPU from the CPU as well as deliver hardware-acceleration for HTML5 canvas rendering. From Honeycomb onward, Snapdragon-based devices are capable of processing multiple in-page videos in the browser, loading them onto the GPU until it's completely saturated; as standard, Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich can only play one in-page video at a time.

Choudury had already taken one swipe at Intel arguing that the x86 chip company is still uncompetitive in its mobile plans. Qualcomm is now looking to chase them in PCs, working with Microsoft on similar refinements for Windows 8 computers that run in Snapdragon ARM chipsets. Exactly what those refinements are, he wouldn't say.

Even with his dismissal of cores, Choudury concedes that Qualcomm is of course falling in line with the rest of the market and has a quadcore S4 in the pipeline for later in the year. In its defense, however, it is capable of adjusting the clock speed of each core independently, so that even if they're all active, they're not running at full speed and will thus consume less power. More on that system in our Krait hands-on coverage.