Qualcomm builds a faster Snapdragon and a higher-capacity radio chip

Snapdragon generic

Qualcomm hasn’t yet tackled the octuple-core mobile processor yet, but on Wednesday it did announce some significant improvements to its application processor line as well as the baseband chips that connect phones to the network.

Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 805, a quad-core processor with an improved CPU design based on its Krait architecture. Each core can run at clock speeds as high 2.5 GHz, which Qualcomm Technologies EVP and co-President Cristiano Amon said was an industry first.

Sony Ultra HDTVOn the multimedia front, Qualcomm has designed the new Snapdragon to support Ultra HD resolutions and 4K video rendering thanks its new Adreno 420 graphics processing unit, which Amon said is 40 percent faster than its GPU predecessors. Though Ultra HD may not seem that useful on a phone, eventually smartphones and tablets will be used as multimedia appliances to feed content to external displays. The new Adreno supports advanced features like hardware tessellation and geometry shading, which Amon said will not only improve the video and gaming experience but allow for more stunning user interfaces.

Unlike its Snapdragon 800 predecessor, the 805 isn’t an integrated chip combining the baseband with the applications processor. Instead Qualcomm is pairing two different modems with the 805, which take into account the growing variation in LTE networks being launched all over the world.

Both modems support the new LTE-Advanced technique carrier aggregation, which lets networks transmit over two separate LTE networks simultaneously, but Qualcomm’s newest baseband, called the Gobi 9×35, is intended to work with the beefier networks going up in Asia, Europe and the U.S. It’s Qualcomm’s first modem to support downlink and uplink transmissions over two aggregated 20 MHz channels. Phones and tablets with this modem will not only be able to tap into the full 150 Mbps of theoretical bandwidth on Verizon’s new LTE monster, as well as SK Telecom and Everything Everywhere’s new 4G systems, but also multiple network configurations with speeds as high as 300 Mbps.

In addition, the 9×35 is Qualcomm’s first LTE category 6 chips, which means it has a few other tricks up its sleeve, such as support for four antenna designs, if a vendor chooses to implement them. Technically these chips could support theoretical connection speeds of 600 Mbps. Our LTE networks still have to catch up, though.

LTE category speed chart

Both the Snapdragon 805 and the new Gobi modem are sampling with device makers today, and Qualcomm expects them to appear in commercial handsets in the first half of 2014. That means we’ll probably see phones and tablets powered by this silicon at CES.

Correction: This post was updated at 7:45 AM PT to correct some bandwidth figures.

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