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Qualcomm launches 64-bit chips for high-end phones at MWC 2014

The octa-core Snapdragon 615 and quad-core Snapdragon 610 are integrated with 4G LTE and designed to speed up the time it takes handset makers to build new devices.

Qualcomm makes processors for mobile devices.
Stephen Shankland/CNET
BARCELONA, Spain -- Qualcomm just made things a little harder for its mobile chip rivals.

The San Diego wireless chipmaker on Monday introduced two new processors for high-end mobile devices -- the quad-core Snapdragon 610 and the octa-core Snapdragon 615. Both chips integrate Qualcomm's third-generation 4G LTE modem, 3G technology such as HSPA+ and CDMA, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, the fastest Wi-Fi currently on the market.

Qualcomm also revealed its Snapdragon 801 processor, the follow-up chip to last year's Snapdragon 800 -- its most premium chip line. Qualcomm has boosted the performance of the CPU, GPU, digital signal processor, camera sensor, and memory components of the chip while keeping the software and other features compatible with its other processors to speed development for handset vendors. The Snapdragon 801 enables higher quality imaging, as well as improved mobile graphics and gaming, higher speed SD card memory, and hardware for dual-SIM service in China.

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Qualcomm said that Snapdragon 801 will ship in commercial devices this quarter. Presumably, that would include Samsung's Galaxy S5, which will be launched later Monday. With the Galaxy S4, the US version used a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, while global versions shipped with Samsung's application processor.

Qualcomm provides applications processors that serve as the brains of electronics, and it leads the market for providing chips that allow mobile devices to connect to wireless networks. Its 4G LTE processor in particular dominates the handset market, appearing in gadgets like the iPhone 5S. Competition is expected to increase as rival products hit the market, but so far, few companies have truly been able to rival Qualcomm.

Intel is one company that hopes to beat Qualcomm in smartphones. The company on Monday told CNET that its LTE chip will appear in some models of the Galaxy S5.

Meanwhile, both new 600-series processors bring 64-bit processing to Qualcomm's high-end lineup. The company in December introduced the Snapdragon 410, a 64-bit processor for mainstream phones in emerging markets. Such chips enable faster apps that can juggle large amounts of data more efficiently.

Handset makers "now have a complete portfolio of products that can take LTE from entry level to the 600-level class," Cristiano Amon, co-president of Qualcomm's mobile and computing business, told CNET.

Along with the new Snapdragon chips, Qualcomm also introduced a new wireless chip for the automotive sector. The company's Gobi 9x30 cellular modem is based on circuitry of 20 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. It will allow car makers to include advanced telematics and infotainment features in their automobiles. And Gobi 9X30's LTE Advanced Category 6 capability -- which has downlink data rates of up to 300Mbps -- will enable broadband vehicle connectivity for enhanced navigation, Wi-Fi hot spot, and infotainment content.

"That's three-times the speed of the majority of the phones available in the market and two-times the speed of the leading phones with Category 4," Amon said.

Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 610 and 615 contain the same essential software, hardware, and radio-frequency technology as the Snapdragon 410, allowing handset vendors to quickly develop a global portfolio of devices at different price levels. It also speeds up the time it takes to get carrier certification for the devices since the phones use the same wireless technology.

"Making sure your device has been validated [by carriers] is the most difficult piece of developing a device," Amon said. "If they validated 410, it basically means [they] don't have to revalidate."

The Snapdragon 610 and 615 won't show up in devices immediately, however. Qualcomm said it will begin sending samples to handset makers in the third quarter, and devices will start hitting the market in the fourth quarter. It also plans to make a reference design version of the chips, allowing handset makers to quickly build devices.

Updated with information about the Snapdragon 801 and Intel LTE.