A couple weeks back, I was checking on a comment posted in response to my Android Benchmark blog post regarding some interesting performance values for the Droid X on GLBenchmark.com.
GLBenchmark has been a useful tool for me in the past; specifically I used iPhone 3GS performance values to estimate graphics performance in my Hummingbird vs Snapdragon article. I replied to the comment and noticed something strange, a new contender named "HTC Glacier" sitting on GLBenchmark's results list above the Galaxy S phones which were reigning supreme at the time.
It made me raise my eyebrows... an HTC phone of that power could only contain a new Snapdragon of some sort. I started to dig into the specs a bit... and then I was pulled away from my computer by the joys of fatherhood. HTC Glacier was forgotten as I scraped up food flung all over the place by my misbehaving daughter. I remember being tired that night, heading to bed soon after I managed to get my temperamental child down for the night.
Fortunately, someone else was paying better attention; my good friend MrK over at AlienBabelTech.com who has hosted my article and several of my blog posts, and with whom I communicate regularly. He spotted the HTC Glacier as well, and wasted no time in doing some sleuthing, finding that the person who posted the HTC Glacier was a T-Mobile Design Manager... quickly answering the question of which carrier Glacier will end up on. He also theorized that the Glacier contains the 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8672, and it wasn't long before his article was being linked on tech blogs across the web.
I hedged a little on this guess of MrK's... The QSD8672 is a 3rd generation Snapdragon, and one I'd heard was going to debut on the flagship Windows Phone 7 device this fall. Given that the market still hasn't seen the 2nd-generation 1.3 GHz Snapdragon QSD8650A, I theorized that this would be the chip in Glacier. In the comments of MrK's article, it was hotly disputed why the performance in the Glacier's CPU was so much higher than the performance of a regular Snapdragon. I theorized at first that the GPU was somehow contributing to the test (I've heard that OpenGL rendering must be done by the GPU, not the CPU) as the Hummingbird has very good CPU skinning tests as well despite the CPU itself only being a marginally better performer than the first-gen Snapdragon at number-crunching. Not pleased with my own answer, I went on to propose that it could also have to do with greatly increased memory bandwidth in the next-gen Snapdragon allowing the the CPU to handle the large textures involved in the CPU skinning test.
Then MrK contacted me again last night with more information, GPU specifications, to be specific. We talked for a while and came to the agreement that the CPU in Glacier definitely contained a next-generation Adreno GPU, likely an Adreno 210 or 220; ATI's former Imageon Z460 that Qualcomm had obtained when they purchased the mobile graphics division in 2008. This ruled out my theory of the QSD8650A, as it's known to contain an Adreno 205, which is essentially the Adreno 200 within the current Snapdragon with a few minor improvements.
It was a late night and I began to suggest that Qualcomm was using one of their new MSM8x60 chips which they had announced on June 1st as having been shipped to developers. After sleeping on it, I realized how unlikely it would be to see one of those chips already in an HTC Glacier if they'd only been shipped out a couple months ago. I doubt HTC works that fast.
So that leaves the QSD8672 that MrK had originally theorized was in HTC Glacier, and I certainly can't prove otherwise. The question remains: what happened to the second-generation Snapdragons? If BGR’s reports of a 1.3 GHz “Droid Pro”coming in November is true, it could be that Qualcomm is simply doing whatever it takes to remain competitive. I wonder if the Droid Pro is going to be sporting an OMAP 3640 Cortex-A8 or an OMAP 4430/40 Cortex-A9. If Cortex-A9s make it onto the market in 2010 (which would be a quarter or two sooner than expected) then Qualcomm and Samsung are going to have to pick up the pace to remain competitive. Doubtless both of them are working on chips based on Cortex-A9, but companies like TI that generally make minimal modifications to ARM's design will likely be the first to the market.
So will we see the 1.5 GHz 3rd-gen Snapdragon QSD8672 in the HTC Glacier this fall? Maybe. Qualcomm may be looking for the opportunity to place themselves back on top, even if it does end up being short-lived. 2nd-gen chips like the QSD8650A may yet find their way into mid-end smartphones while Cortex-A9 makes its debut. One thing is certain... it's going to be an exciting holiday season for the mobile phone industry!