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    Qualcomm one-ups Samsung by announcing RISC-V based smartwatch chip

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    Last updated: October 17th, 2023 at 19:21 UTC+02:00

    Qualcomm announced something big today, just a few days before the unveiling of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor. The company announced that it is working with Google on a smartwatch processor that uses RISC-V instruction set architecture rather than ARM. This is the first time that the company is working on a RISC-V chipset, and this could mark the start of the company's move away from ARM and surrounding controversies.

    Upcoming Snapdragon Wear processor could be the start of Qualcomm's move away from ARM-based chips

    Qualcomm, which is known for its Snapdragon processors and 4G/5G cellular modems, said that it has extended its partnership with Google to develop RISC-V-based Snapdragon Wear series processors for Wear OS smartwatches. As a result, we could see high-performance and efficient processors for future smartwatches. These chips will be launched globally, but the company hasn't unveiled the name or the launch time frame of its upcoming RISC-V chip.

    Google and Qualcomm, along with Samsung, are already a part of the new RISE semiconductor development consortium. Together, the companies that are a part of RISE are trying to create processors, software, and applications based on the RISC-V instruction set architecture in a bid to find an alternative to ARM, which is the absolute dominant instruction set that is used by all smartphones, smartwatches, and a lot of computers and servers.

    Dino Bekis, VP and GM of the Wearables and Mixed Signal Solutions division at Qualcomm, said, “We are excited to leverage RISC-V and expand our Snapdragon Wear platform as a leading silicon provider for Wear OS. Our Snapdragon Wear platform innovations will help the Wear OS ecosystem rapidly evolve and streamline new device launches globally.”

    Author's Note: Unlike ARM, RISC-V is an open-source instruction set architecture, and it can be used to create fully custom CPU cores for various types of devices, ranging from IoT to high-end smartphones and computers. Thanks to its openness and flexibility, it is a great option for chipset designers, device brands, and platform developers.

    Ever since the dispute between ARM and Qualcomm started after the latter acquired Nuvia, things have not been rosy among them. ARM is also planning to change its business model by charging for its architecture on a per-device sold basis rather than the existing model. And that move could make devices pricier for everyone. To read more about the ARM-Qualcomm controversy, read our article here. So, Qualcomm could be looking to slowly switch from ARM to RISC-V to develop future Snapdragon chips, and it is starting with the upcoming Snapdragon Wear processor.

    This is a good move for the entire ecosystem, and it is possible that Samsung could also start developing RISC-V chipsets as the South Korean firm is also a part of the RISE consortium. In our interview with Samsung's Sanjith Thayyilthodiyil (VP of System LSI Sales & Marketing), we asked about the company's plans for RISC-V chips, but the company declined to comment. However, it is entirely possible that we could see RISC-V-based Exynos chips in the future.

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