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Qualcomm Announces Three New Snapdragon SoCs, Gigabit LTE Modem

Qualcomm announced three more mid-range chips today -- the Snapdragon 625, 435 and 425 -- all of which use Cortex-A53 CPU cores. The company also unveiled a gigabit LTE modem.

Qualcomm’s new SoCs also support LTE with carrier aggregation, 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO technology, dual image signal processors, and Hexagon DSP for power efficient audio with sensor hub (compatible with Android M’s sensor requirements), as well as Quick Charge, Qualcomm’s fast charging technology. All three chips are pin and software compatible with each other, which means OEMs could easily release interchange them.

This should lower development costs for OEMs as they build both lower-cost and higher-cost devices, but it should also make it easier for them to upgrade these devices to a new version of Android. If a Snapdragon 625-powered device gets the new version of Android, then one with Snapdragon 425 should be able to get it, too.

Snapdragon 625

The Snapdragon 625 is the first mid-range chip from Qualcomm to be built on a 14nm FinFET process, which can save up to 35 percent power consumption compared to the previous generation. It has an octa-core Cortex-A53 CPU, and it comes with an integrated X9 LTE modem with upload speeds of up to 150 Mbps. It also includes an Adreno 506 GPU, which supports the brand-new Vulkan API. The chip has support for dual 24MP cameras on the back and 13MP cameras on the front.

Snapdragon 435

The Snapdragon 435 is also an octa-core Cortex-A53 CPU that is matched with an Adreno 505 GPU, and it has support for dual 21MP cameras that can be paired with hybrid autofocus systems (phase detection and contrast auto-focus). An X8 LTE modem is integrated into the 435 SoC that brings download speeds of up to 300 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

Snapdragon 425

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 425 seems to be the direct successor to Snapdragon 410, which replaced the Snapdragon 400 in many low-end smartphones that cost around $100 or so. It comes with a quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU and an Adreno 308 GPU. It may have made sense to pick a generation-old GPU for the Snapdragon 425 SoC, due to cost constraints, but it’s a little odd that Qualcomm went with a two-generation old GPU here. Previous chips in this series used one-generation old GPUs.

The chip comes with an X6 LTE modem that supports upload speeds up to 75 Mbps with 64-QAM and 2x10 MHz carrier aggregation.

Snapdragon X16 LTE Gigabit Modem

This new Cat. 16 modem is built on a 14nm FinFET process, which allows it to reach download speeds of up to 1 Gbps, although it only reaches upload speeds of up to 150 Mbps. 4G LTE has always been supposed to reach 1 Gbps speeds, just not from day one, so it’s not so surprising that we’re reaching this limit now. However, it’s still great to see it happen, and Qualcomm deserves credit for reaching this technical limit with LTE technology.

"In addition to serving as a significant milestone for the mobile industry, the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem is a powerful testament to Qualcomm Technologies' continued technology leadership in all things wireless," said Cristiano Amon, executive vice president, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., and president, QCT. "Not only does the Snapdragon X16 blur the lines between wired and wireless broadband, but marks an important step toward 5G as we enable deeper unlicensed spectrum integration with LTE and more advanced MIMO techniques to support growing data consumption and deliver an even faster and smoother user experience," he added.

The problem is that in practice, most people will probably see much lower speeds than 1 Gbps over the next few years, at least. Such high speeds are always limited by small data caps. It makes little difference whether you can pull down a web page with a 50 Mbps connection or a 1 Gbps connection.

These speeds are much more important for data-heavy services such as video, which is why small data caps are detrimental to such high speeds. When we do get “unlimited video” services, such as T-Mobile’s Binge On, the quality is much degraded, and the speeds are lowered anyway. Carriers should always launch higher-speed networks along with higher data caps (for reasonable prices), otherwise the two are in conflict with each other and don’t make much sense except as a marketing bullet point.

The X16 gigabit modem and Qualcomm's three new SoCs are expected to arrive in devices in the second half of 2016.

Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu. 

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Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.