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Snapdragon Wear 5100: Qualcomm introduces new chips for smartwatches

The American chip group Qualcomm has been trying to counter Apple and its mobile SoCs in the wearables market for years with its own platforms. The new Snapdragon Wear 5100 or 5100+ should now once again bring the breakthrough. We have many details in advance. The Snapdragon Wear 5100 (SW5100), among others, should bring significantly more performance to wearables and will therefore receive more computing cores.

This was known before, but apparently, Qualcomm has made a fundamental change in the meantime. However, it is not known whether this will lead to delays. So far, if the chip has been made at a 5-nanometer scale, the design has recently been changed to 4-nanometer production, so that the new wearables SoC will run a little more energy-efficiently. Production will likely be carried out by Samsung’s semiconductor division, although that doesn’t mean Samsung will use the new chips in its products.

5100 and 5100+ variants

There are two variants of the SW5100 in the works, differing mainly in that they rely on different “packaging”. It is planned to offer a version called SW5100 in the so-called “Molded Laser Package” (MLP), in which the SoC and its power management IC (PMIC) are placed separately on a carrier material, while the other version SW5100+ then a “Molded Embedded Package” (MEP) is added, in which the SoC and PMIC are housed in the same “package”.

With only the MEP variant also supporting an ultra-low power deep sleep mode, ie if necessary thanks to the separate in the package QCC5100 co-processor can continue transmitting via WLAN or Bluetooth extremely energy-efficiently and can therefore remain connected to the host smartphone to receive notifications or updates, while the four powerful main cores of the CPU remain switched off.

Additional chip QCC5100 enables extreme energy-saving

Incidentally, Qualcomm will probably market the MEP-based variant as the Snapdragon Wear 5100+, as is already common with current wearables SoCs from production. As mentioned, the SW5100+ will be the only one of the two chips to bring the separate QCC5100 co-processor as part of the platform, which offers a 22nm ARM Cortex-M55 ultra-low-power processor. The QCC5100 has been on the market for some time as a standalone chip and is mainly used in Bluetooth headphones. In addition to the radio modems, it also offers an audio processor capable of, among other things, active noise cancellation. Since the chip also has its own GPU and display controller, it can display graphics on a smartwatch screen even when the main CPU is ‘sleeping’, so it’s always on.

4 ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores

Both versions of the Snapdragon Wear 5100 come with four ARM Cortex-A53 cores that can run at a maximum of 1.7 gigahertz and are supported by an Adreno 702 GPU clocked up to 700 megahertz. Both variants support LPDDR4X RAM and eMMC 5.1 flash memory, which must be “stacked” on top of the actual SoC using a “package-on-package” design. Both the MEP and MLP versions can be combined with up to four gigabytes of RAM, while Qualcomm is currently testing variants with two or four GB.

Both chips also have an integrated image processor that supports two cameras, each with a maximum resolution of 13 and 16 megapixels. Through them, the chip can record 1080P video when using a single camera, and also supports video calling. With dual encode/decode, up to 720p at 30 frames per second is possible.

Android and Wear OS

Android and Wear OS are supported as of operating systems, although a launch related to Wear OS 3 or Android 11 is likely. Depending on the variant, the transmission takes place via Bluetooth 5.2 – in the MLP version via a separate BT/WiFi chip, in the MEP version via the BT/WiFi module in the QCC5100. If necessary, both variants can also establish a connection to the Internet via LTE, which at least theoretically opens up the possibility of calling via GSM networks.

The SW5100 is also equipped with support for 5 GHz WLAN (802.11c) with a bandwidth of 80 MHz. In return, only the SW5100+ has dual-band Glonass positioning via an optional chip, while 802.11c support is lacking here.

Fall detection, better haptic feedback

With the Plus model, it should be noted that the QCC5100 low-power chip also has an ARM Ethos Machine Learning Core, which can be used to detect activity, determine heart rate variance, and detect falls. The power management chip in the package also allows Qualcomm customers to use LRA haptics and a 1-watt amplifier for speakers.

This should significantly improve the haptic feedback on the smartwatches equipped with it, which is usually barely usable on the previous models. It is still unclear when Qualcomm will make its new wearables platform Snapdragon Wear 5100 and Snapdragon Wear 5100+ available in the first commercial devices. However, the recent node change should mean it will probably be a few more months before the first carriers adopt the new chips. The details of the new chips described here may change before market launch, also because the project is currently still in deep development.


Nicole Craig

Media coordinator and junior editor at Research Snipers RS-NEWS, I studied mass communication and interested technology business, I have 3 years experience in the media industry.

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