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King of the ARMverse: Can anyone snap the dragon?

VR-Zone had a chat with Qualcomm’s Senior Vice President of Product Management Raj Talluri about trends in the mobile sector.


There isn’t much that can get in the way of Qualcomm: It’s a mobile giant, dominating a good portion of the ARM-based mobile market.

Part of the reason for this is Qualcomm is the only manufacturer that currently has a fully intergrated SoC on the market. Amongst OEMs, that’s some serious cred. Intel will point out that its upcoming mobile chips are all about LTE, but it doesn’t have the chip that powers the year’s top smartphones — the Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC One and the Nokia Lumia 1020 — as well as the bestselling refresh of the Nexus 7.

Now the mobile processor market is getting crowded. Though Qualcomm has its share of wins, having fought the OMAP giant and won,  it’s facing an increasingly competitive market in the mid-range and low-end from the likes of Intel, MediaTek and no-name Chinese chip vendors.

But “keep calm and carry on” seems to be the mantra of Qualcomm.

VR-Zone recently had the chance to speak with Qualcomm’s Raj Talluri about the mobile market and the competition that Qualcomm faces.

VR-Zone: At Computex in June, Intel said it had busted the “x86 power efficiency myth” with Haswell. Can Haswell take on ARM in power and performance?

Intel has been talking about getting into mobile for a while, with limited success. They are a very careful company, and Qualcomm takes them very seriously as a competitor. But if you actually look at their offerings to date, they haven’t been very competitive for multiple reasons.

One, if you look at the mobile space, it’s about a lot more than just a CPU — a CPU is just one aspect of it. There’s video, camera, audio, all the modem technology… We integrate all of that and put together a fairly competitive offering all the way from high-end to the low-end.

From what we’ve seen from Intel and the products out there, when we looked at the performance of the [Lenovo K900] and did an analysis it seemed Intel’s chip was worse performing than our Snapdragon 600 in a number of ways.

They are a worthy company and we take them very seriously, but we haven’t seen anything from them that really competes on power performance and integration basis on mobile yet.

VRZ: What do you think is stopping Intel from making a chip that is as competitive as a Qualcomm Snapdragon?

It takes a significant amount of investment and a certain amount of experience. We’ve been doing this for a long time.

I think it’s not so much that Snapdragon is an ARM chip — ARM is one aspect of it — but the fact that we design our own processor. Even if you compare with other people who make ARM-based processors, I think the power and performance numbers of Snapdragon are great. The clock speeds we’ve been able to get are quite a bit advanced. That’s because we design our own processor based on ARM’s instruction set.

It takes a while. We’ve been shipping for a long time in the mobile space and we understand that space pretty well. It takes time and experience and a customer base to learn how to do that.

VRZ: At Computex we saw a lot of ARM chips from MediaTek as well as a number of relatively no-name vendors. What are your thoughts on these chips? Is Qualcomm worried about the competition from these kind of vendors?

If you look at Qualcomm, we make processors and platforms that go into both expensive and cheap smartphones. We go across the tiers, and we make multiple processors and multiple platforms every year.

Our approach there has been to build all our own IP: our own processors, our own CPUs, our own GPUs, our own cameras, our own DSPs. But then we scale the performance, which means we scale the size of the IP blocks, then we integrate them into everything from a very high-end processor to a very low-end processor.

The reason we do that is for the sake of the ecosystem.  If you’re a game developer, and you’re developing a game. If you optimize for the Snapdragon 800, you’re now able to run the same game in a very comparable manner on the Snapdragon 400 and 200. Performance will be lower, but still you get the leverage of all the R&D investment. The same for our OEMs, when they use one of our processors and one platform they use it across the board. You can see what Nokia was able to do with the Lumia series — from high-end to low-end.

If you look at people like MediaTek and some of the low end competitors, they have a few offerings at the low-end of the market but nothing that competes with us across the tiers. In some tiers they are very competitive and we need to deal with them and we need to work hard to get our designs, but what we find is that people like to use our technology because they are able to deliver those high end features that make Snapdragon so great all the way across into the low tiers of the market.

VRZ: On the topic of competition, what are your thoughts on Imagination’s new MIPS chips?

I think MIPS is another processor that has been around for along time. I think it’s a good core and it does what it does pretty well. We haven’t seen the traction in the wireless space yet. A lot of ARM processors are already out there, and MIPS is a different instruction set so it takes some times for these things to gain traction.

VRZ: Does Qualcomm have any HSA products in its roadmap?

If you look at Snapdragon today, it’s an extremely heterogeneous architecture. We have CPUs that do compute, we have GPUs that gaming and the UI, we have the DSPs that do audio, we have video engines, camera engines… We already have a number of true heterogeneous processors all working together in a very synchronized manner to divide up the workload.

For example, when you run a camera application or a game application it gets split up between all these different cores. That’s how we execute them in a very power efficient manner.

We’re definitely interested in working with the HSA and what they do and figuring out how that helps the larger software development community.

VRZ: Last question, where do you see Qualcomm in five years?

Hopefully still being successful in smartphones and tablets as well as expanding a little bit more into the compute area. We’ll also be expanding more into the home space like smart TVs and set-top boxes. We’ll also be working on improving high-speed connectivity to the home through next-generation WLAN technologies

Lots of growth in different areas. You’ll see us doing a lot of innovation in all of these spaces.

VRZ: Thanks for your time

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