Qualcomm heads for Nvidia with S4 SoCs, GameCommand app

Chip giant Qualcomm has announced details of its next-generation ARM-based Snapdragon S4 processors, along with a surprise refresh of its entry-level Snapdragon S1 line - and it's looking to take the fight to Nvidia.

There's no denying that Nvidia's entry into the ARM chip market has been a phenomenal success. Despite having little to no experience in developing central processing technology - having spent its time concentrating on massively-parallel high-power graphics processors - the original Tegra came as a surprise, and its dual-core success powers a vast quantity of tablets on the market today.

Recently, the company scored points over its rivals by being the first to market with a quad-core chip - or a five-core chip, if you count the clever companion core that drives the variable SMP architecture - but that's not something its rivals will let stand. Qualcomm in particular, being one of Nvidia's biggest rivals in the tablet and smartphone space, is keen to win back business - and is targeting Nvidia's stronghold of mobile gaming.

The Snapdragon S4 series, announced at Innovation Qualcomm in Istanbul earlier this year, will now include a family comprising the MSM8660A, MSM8260A, MSM8630, MSM8230, MSM8627, MSM8227, APQ8060A and APQ8030 - far more than the three chips originally announced. In addition, the chips will be made available with Qualcomm's communications technology on-board - something Nvidia can't offer - with support for EV-DO, HSPA+, TD-SCDMA, LTE FDD, LTE TDD and good old-fashioned Wi-Fi baked in.

With quad-core Snapdragon S4 processors expected to tip up early next year in client devices at speeds of up to 2.5GHz - around 1GHz faster than Nvidia's Tegra 3 'Kal-El' processor - the hardware is looking promising, but Qualcomm has another trick up its sleeve: games.

Nvidia's Tegra strategy has always been clear: much like it convinces desktop game developers to include its branding on their products - under the tagline "the way it's meant to be played" - it convinces mobile developers to create titles exclusively for or enhanced by its Tegra processors. The company even has a software portal, dubbed Tegra Zone, through which gamers can download the latest Tegra-enhanced titles.

It's a prudent move on Nvidia's part, and one Qualcomm is apparently happy to copy: the company's existing Snapdragon GamePack, a bundle of games used to demonstrate the Snapdragon's capabilities, now includes The Ball, Fight Game Heroes, and Galaga Special Edition, along with a new Tegra Zone-like portal app dubbed Snapdragon GameCommand.

Qualcomm hasn't forgotten the lower-end handset market, however: in addition to its top-end S4 series, the company also announced a refresh to its Snapdragon S1 MSM7225A, MSM7625A, MSM7227A and MSM7627A entry-level chips to boost performance without increasing power draw or - crucially - cost.

"Qualcomm is innovating on all fronts and continues to lead the mobile computing era with its roadmap depth, breadth and software support," claied Qualcomm's Cristiano Amon at the announcement. "Our next-generation hardware, optimized for use with our software suite, facilitates best-in-class performance and power for every smart device segment, from mass-market smartphones to high-performance tablets."

While Nvidia might argue against the 'best-in-class' claim, one thing's for certain: come 2012, buyers of ARM-based tablets will be spoilt for choice in the high-end hardware stakes.