Qualcomm hints at Snapdragon-based laptops

April 3, 2012 // 1:18 p.m.

Tags: #arm #laptop #notebook #qualcomm #snapdragon #snapdragon-s4 #tegra-3 #ultrabooks #ultra-portable

While Intel's Ultrabook spec gains weight, the competition is slimming down with mobile giant Qualcomm announcing plans to produce chips for ultra-slim Windows 8 laptops.

Qualcomm's a major player in the low-power high-performance chip market: it's ARM-derivative designs can be found in numerous smartphones and tablets, where the company's focus on highly integrated system-on-chip designs pay dividends for its customers.

It's relatively unknown in the world of laptop computing, however - and that's something the company is looking to change. As a result, its next-generation Snapdragon processors are going to be powering a new wave of ultra-portable laptops in the very near future.

Qualcomm's Rob Chandok has gone on record with PC World as stating that devices based around his company's Snapdragon S4 processor will be 'much lighter than what Intel calls an Ultrabook.'

Those are fighting words, but they come at a good time for Qualcomm: its next-generation Snapdragon S4 chip is making the move to a 28nm process size, at which point its quad Cortex-based ARM processors and multi-core graphics architecture can run at a significantly improved speed for a lower power draw.

Intel is also doing its part to help, giving its blessing to an extension of the Ultrabook spec that allows a 14-inch display and a much thicker body than first-generation products. With Intel blurring the lines between Ultrabooks and common or garden ultra-portable laptops, there's certainly room in the market for something even thinner.

But just how thin could you make a Snapdragon-based laptop? For a clue, we can turn to the nearest device on the market today: the Asus Transformer Prime. Coupled with its keyboard base station, the Transformer Prime is a handily laptop-shaped device using Nvidia's Tegra 3 ARM-based processor and measures just 8mm thick for the tablet portion.

While it's true that a laptop has a few components missing from the Transformer Prime's 8mm thickness - namely a keyboard and trackpad - it's likely that the device of which Chandok speaks could potentially come in at a thickness of around 10mm. With Intel's Ultrabook spec requiring laptops marketed as such to be no more than 18mm thick, that's a serious space saving to be had.

We won't be seeing a Qualcomm-powered laptop for a while yet, though: the company is waiting for the launch of Microsoft's Windows 8, which is the first mainstream operating system from the company to support the ARM instruction set architecture. With Microsoft still not providing a firm launch date, buyers would do well not to hold their breath.

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