Back in 2005, Qualcomm announced that it had licensed the ARMv7 instruction set architecture and was working with ARM to create its own high-performance core based on that architecture. The new core was dubbed "Scorpion," and at the time it was announced, Qualcomm didn't disclose much about it except that it would run at 1 GHz in a 65 nm process and would be customized to provide a high level of performance and energy efficiency in its target mobile applications. Exactly how this combination would be achieved was not revealed, which is typical of Qualcomm; historically, the company has disclosed few details about the processor cores that live inside its chips.
Then in 2006, Qualcomm announced a new chip platform, "Snapdragon," in which the Scorpion core would be used alongside several other processors and co-processors. According to Qualcomm, Snapdragon will serve a range of high-performance mobile applications, such as high-end smartphones and mobile internet devices. Still, there was little information about the Scorpion core itself.
Figure 1. Scorpion core block diagram.
In conference presentations this year, however, Qualcomm popped the hood on the Scorpion core and presented a detailed description of the core's microarchitecture and implementation. The Scorpion core (shown in Figure 1) is similar to ARM's Cortex-A8, which also implements the ARMv7 architecture. Like the Cortex-A8, Scorpion is a superscalar, dual-issue machine, and supports the powerful, signal-processing-oriented NEON instruction set extensions and VFPv3 floating-point extensions (referred to collectively on Scorpion as the "VeNum" media processing engine). Scorpion will be supported by ARM's standard software development tools, and Qualcomm expects to offer off-the-shelf multimedia codec software that uses VeNum.
BDTI has not independently verified the above clock speeds or power figures, but if they are accurate, it appears that Qualcomm's efforts have yielded significant benefits in terms of both speed and energy efficiency. Clearly, Qualcomm is betting that its investment will pay off in chip sales, and that these improvements will give Snapdragon an edge over key competitors like TI's OMAP3430 and Freescale's i.MX31.
For more details on the Scorpion core of Qualcomm, see InsideDSP.