Qualcomm targets PCs, takes aim at Intel's ultrabooks

Qualcomm wants to put its S4 Snapdragon chips in thin and light laptops with always-on connectivity

Qualcomm wants a piece of the PC market with its upcoming Snapdragon S4 chips as the company looks to jump out of its traditional stronghold market of smartphones and tablets, CEO Paul Jacobs said on Tuesday.

The company is talking with PC makers about building thin and light computers based on its Snapdragon chips, Jacobs said during a keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips are based on the ARM architecture, and the initial PCs will be based on the upcoming S4 chips, Jacobs said. Most PCs today ship with x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, but with the support of Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, ARM-based chip makers are increasingly expressing interest in the PC market.

PCs for years have been dominated by x86, and S4 will provide a new usage model for PCs, Jacobs said. Laptops with S4 will include many features that originated in smartphones, such as booting quickly and providing instant cloud access to keep applications and feeds up to date.

"Your next PC will deliver on the always-on, always-connected promise," Jacobs said.

Intel has its own take on always-on, always-connected laptops with ultrabooks, which are based on the latest x86 chips. Intel is heavily backing ultrabooks as a way to reinvigorate the PC market, which is being pummeled by tablets, most of which use ARM processors. Companies like Acer, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo announced x86-based ultrabooks at CES.

Qualcomm's chips for PCs are being designed from the ground up with standby use cases in mind, Jacobs said. The Snapdragon S4 chips will reach devices later this year and include single-, dual- and quad-core processors running at clock speeds between 1.5GHz and 2.5GHz. The processors are designed to run Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 OS, which will appear in tablets and PCs in the second half of next year.

The laptops could include 3G and 4G LTE mobile broadband for connectivity. Jacobs gave a brief on-stage demonstration of a prototype Windows 8 tablet running on an S4 processor taking advantage of 4G connectivity. The S4 chip will likely integrate a 3G/4G multimode modem. Qualcomm's Gobi communication chips are already being used in many laptops for mobile broadband connectivity.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors power 300 devices and more than 350 devices are under development, Jacobs said. More than 70 designs are in the works for its upcoming S4 chips. All smartphones with Windows Phone 7 are using Qualcomm's Snapdragon, as do many tablets running Google's Android OS.

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