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Qualcomm just announced it has launched a new version of its Snapdragon mobile processor that can process data at a speed of 2.5 gigahertz. That’s as powerful as many laptop and desktop computer processors, but Qualcomm’s chip with as many as four cores, or brains, is aimed at smartphones and tablets.

That means mobile devices sold this year and early next year are likely to have just as much, if not more, computing performance as a lot of computers out there. So the new Snapdragon processors will enable a whole new generation of smartphones and tablets that can do everything from cool 3D games to displaying video from a phone on a big screen in full high-definition resolution.

Code-named Krait, the next-generation Snapdragon promises to deliver speeds of 2.5 gigahertz per core, with options for one, two or four cores. The Snapdragon family will also include four wireless capabilities — WiFi, global positioning system (GPS), Bluetooth and FM radio — in one device. It will also support near-field communications, a hot new technology that lets you wave a phone over a reader to make a purchase. And it will support stereoscopic 3D video, photo capture and playback.

Qualcomm claims that the Snapdragon has 150 percent higher overall performance and 65 percent lower power consumption than currently available ARM-based CPU (central processing unit) cores. Qualcomm is able to make the big leap to this new generation because it has made a big manufacturing leap to 28 nanometer technology. Qualcomm released its 1-gigahertz Snapdragon chip with a single core in the fourth quarter of 2008 using a 65-nm technology.

The 28 nanometer technology is like a finer pencil, which can be used to etch smaller circuits on a chip. By cramming more circuits on a chip, Qualcomm is executing on the phenomenon known as Moore’s Law, named after former Intel chairman Gordon Moore, who predicted that the number of components on a chip would double every couple of years.

Qualcomm also announced its new Adreno family of graphics processing units (GPUs). The new quad-core Adreno 320 can deliver 15 times the performance of the original Adreno chip it replaces. Qualcomm says the Adreno 320 performance is similar to the quality of graphics on today’s game consoles, but at a much lower power consumption level.

The single-core Snapdragon MSM8930 chip has built-in LTE modem technology, which means it can deliver data networking speeds for mainstream smartphones at relatively low costs. The LTE technology (short for Long-Term Evolution) enables data speeds of 24 megabits a second or more in mobile phones. That’s as fast as the speed of cable modems in many homes.

The MSM8960 dual-core chip will be available in the second quarter, while the MSM8930 single-core chip and the quad-core APQ8064 chip will be available in early 2012. The APQ8064 chip in particular is aimed at tablet computers. Qualcomm made the announcement at the Mobile World Congress 2010 event in Barcelona today. We’ll have to see how rivals such as Marvell, Broadcom, Intel and Nvidia come in with their own new products this year to see who the winner will be.

[image credit: Wikimedia Commons]

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