Qualcomm Aims for Ultrabook Market With ARM SoC

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Qualcomm hopes its success and experience in the mobile phone market will translate into worth competition for Intel’s massive ultrabook push. The San Diego chip giant is preparing a line of ARM-based processors for super-thin notebooks and/or tablets running Windows 8.

Snapdragon is a system-on-a-chip (SoC) design that includes a CPU, a GPU, a 2G/3G/4G modem and a baseband processor, so everything you need to build a smartphone comes in one processor that’s just 14mm by 14mm.

There are four lines of Snapdragon processors, the S1 through S4. The S1 is used in lower-end smartphones while the S2 is in higher-end phones, including the much-lauded Nokia Lumia 900. The S4 is relatively new and can be found in at least one tablet, the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity.

Qualcomm believes it can compete with the Intel juggernaut by offering a better mobile experience. “The difference will come from choosing a technology that’s grown up from mobile versus one from the PC space that’s trying to be mobile. We’re from a place of devices designed not to fit in a briefcase, but designed to fit in a pocket,” said Tim McDonough, vice president of marketing for Qualcomm CDMA technologies.

“We also come from the perspective of designing for batteries versus designing for outlets. So we design for things that are extremely thin and are designed to run for extremely long periods of time, won’t need fans, and because we come from a heritage of mobility a broad range of mobility options, we’re also a leader in multimode LTE,” he added.

Qualcomm has already worked with Microsoft to optimize Windows Phone on Snapdragon, as seen in the Lumia series. Now it’s working with Microsoft to make sure the Windows 8 RT software takes full advantage of the hardware.

Qualcomm will face a number of challenges, not the least of which is the new market of Windows RT vs. the existing Intel software market, said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis.

“Intel is claiming they can match ARM on battery life. I’m not sure I believe it but if there isn’t a dramatic difference in performance in battery life or form factor, then I do think that consumers are likely to prioritize backwards compatibility,” he said.

A really big open question will be how large is the ecosystem on day one when Windows RT ships, presumably this October. “If they look at this as their next laptop, they are likely to want the apps they are already comfortable with and they are using,” said Greengart.

McDonough did not give any release date for Snapdragon S4-power notebooks or tablets. Microsoft has yet to confirm the release date of Windows 8.

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