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Qualcomm hopes for chip rebound with the powerful Snapdragon 820

The new chip boasts several performance bumps and new functions -- particularly in wireless technology -- but will device makers choose it or is Qualcomm's mobile dominance declining?
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Written by Kevin Tofel, Contributing Writer on

2015 has been a tough year for Qualcomm. The company battled talk of its Snapdragon 810 processor overheating in some devices and then lost momentum when Samsung opted to use its own Exynos processor in this year's Galaxy flagship phones.

Now, Qualcomm hopes to get some of its mobile mojo back with a new chip for 2016: The company officially unveiled the Snapdragon 820 on Tuesday.

On paper, the new silicon that will be the brains of smartphones and tablets after year-end sounds good.

Qualcomm's Kyro processor is expected to provided twice as much computing power as the cores in the Snapdragon 810. Graphics from the Adreno 530 promise a 40 percent boost, as well.

The integrated LTE modem supports Category 12 network speeds, theoretically pegged at 600 Mbps downloads and 150 Mbps uploads. Wi-Fi gets a boost too, supporting both 802.11ad and 802.11ac 2x2 MU MIMO standards; expect speeds that are between two and three times faster if your router supports these. And Qualcomm is boasting that the Snapdragon 820 is the first commercial chip to work with LTE-U, a way to access both licensed -- think carrier supported -- and unlicensed wireless spectrum for mobile broadband.

The company is also speeding up how fast you can charge a mobile device: The Snapdragon 820 adds Quick Charge 3.0 technology, which it says is 38 percent more efficient than the current Quick Charge 2.0 charging found in many current, high-end devices.

Built on a 14 nanometer process, the Snapdragon 820 appears to have it all. The big question is which device makers will choose to use it given the company's missteps this year.

Perhaps the biggest answer to that question has already been decided, at least in China where there's more room for growth than any other country right now.

Huawei just announced its own "super chip" in the Kirin 950, for example. And Xiaomi and Lenovo reportedly haven't yet reached the valuable cross-licensing patent agreements with Qualcomm that bring in nearly double the revenue of the company's actual chip business.

The upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in January will provide the first clue if Qualcomm is back on track when it comes to mobile chips; that's where we'll likely see the first partner agreements from device makers.

After a hiccup in 2015, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 is the a key to the company's rebound in 2016, so stay tuned.

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