Smartphones Await Dual-Core Chips

Next-generation smartphone chips will bring higher-resolution HD capabilities for calls and videoconferences, analysts say.

Smartphones are on the verge of getting a major boost as chip makers ready dual-core chips that could accelerate performance for both applications and multimedia files.

Most of today's smartphones are capable of only 720p resolution high-definition video and come with processors touching speeds of about 1 GHz, but more and more users are demanding higher performance, analysts said. Next-generation dual-core processors could satisfy those demands by supporting full 1080p HD resolution for more demanding applications like videoconferencing.

Phone makers have yet to formally announce plans for smartphones based on dual-core chips, but the next-generation processors are coming quickly.

Qualcomm Inc. has already shipped its first dual-core processor, the MSM8660, to manufacturers and plans to start testing samples of a faster dual-core chip, the QSD8672, later this year. Texas Instruments Inc., meanwhile, is set to ship the dual-core OMAP4430 chip later this year. The chips could be running mobile devices by early next year.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64, said that with users running increasingly demanding smartphone applications, the higher-performance dual-core chips are needed soon.

He noted that manufacturers could boost single-core processor performance by ratcheting up the clock speed, but that would lead to excess heat and battery drain. Adding another core would be a more power-efficient way to boost chip performance while preserving battery life, he added.

TI and Qualcomm said smartphones running their new dual-core chips will be able to render Web pages and video faster, and play back 1080p high-definition video.

Smartphones are following the same path as laptops and desktops, which already use multicore chips. Multicore technology first appeared in IBM's Power4 server chips earlier in this decade, and later trickled down to PCs with processors built companies such as Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

The challenge to chip makers grows significantly as devices shrink. "The size, power and thermal constraints put in place by the end equipment are more relaxed in a PC than in a smartphone," said Robert Tolbert, director of product management for the OMAP smartphone business at TI.

TI's OMAP4430 is based on Arm's Cortex-A9 processor design and will run at a speed of about 1 GHz.

Devices based on Qualcomm's MSM8660 processor, which runs at 1.2 GHz, are expected to ship by the first quarter of 2011. The faster Qualcomm QSD8672, which runs at 1.5 GHz, will start sample testing by the end of 2010 and reach devices next year.

Shah is a reporter for the IDG News Service.

This story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an earlier version that first appeared on Computerworld.com.

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