Qualcomm MDP MSM8660 Review

Posted by Jakob Ginzburg On December - 30 - 2011

Qualcomm Developer Programm

Due to Apple’s “one device for all target groups” policy, the perception has changed dramatically in terms of device diversity in recent years. “Diversity” changed to “fragmentation”. Forgotten are all the years, where developers had to adapt their software several times for different Symbian OS phones. Often people overlook the fact that many devices also bring many target groups, which bring many new ideas to the table, which can then be monetized.

After the newest boom of mobile apps, which are existing for over ten years now, a lot of small and big developers could reach new markets. Through the huge device diversity it became easier to find a customer base.

If you want to start to develop mobile apps you will have to ask yourself a few questions. For example which system and which plattform should I choose? At first the OS doesn’t matter, the processor architecture is more interesting. The biggest market share in that regard has Qualcomm, which supports developers, who can and want to invest a sum in the „Snapdragon Mobile Development Plattform“.

The MDP MSM8660 (that’s the name of the current version) consist of a high class developer smartphone and professional tools, bundled with a lot of documentations.
These give young developers with a easy way in. Senior developers will find useful information on how to further optimize your games and apps for the Snapdragon-CPU.

But what exactly is Snapdragon and why should developers invest time into this plattform?

Snapdragon is a mobile processor architecture, which was introduced in 2008. It was a sensation and a big leap forward, because until that time there were no mobile CPUs with a clock rate of 1 GHz and up. Two smartphones were using the new chips: The Toshiba TG01 and the HTC HD2.

Especially because of HTC, the plattform became wildly known and established itself to one of the leading product families of processors in highend-smartphones. To enrich the complete package, in 2009 Qualcomm bought the „Mobile GPU“-team from ATI for 65 Million Dollar and integrated their graphic processors under the name „Adreno“ into their chips.

This step was another milestone in the history of semiconductors, because there were nearly no all-in-one solutions on the market.
For example in 2006 HTC tried to integrate an ATI graphics chip into the Business-Smartphone „HTC Advantage“, but failed due to the availability or better said the licensing of drivers.
Qualcomm was able to deliver this in one package, so OEM’s didn’t have to be bothered with these details.

Due to their many years of experience (Qualcomm was founded in 1985) and established partnerships, the chip producer can deliver a complete system, which is fine tuned to the used components. A big advantage. This way Qualcomm got contracts with Microsoft, which is the reason why nearly every Windows phone 7 device on the market is powered by a Snapdragon processor
But it still is Android, where the focus of Qualcomm is at the moment. Easy to understand, because after a year on the market Windows Phone 7 still has no market penetration that is worth mentioning.

So Android, Snapdragon and Adreno are a good base to develop mobile games. But what about the already mentioned “fragmentation”?
That’s were the Qualcomm MDP comes into play.

Qualcomm MDP – Die highest Power for the best games

On first sight you’ll see that on this smartphone design wasn’t a concern. Edges and corners show that this is a device for development. No consumer would pay 1350
Dollar for that piece of hardware, even though it would beat most smartphones on the market.

The front side has a 3,6″ screen with a WVGA resolution. On top of the screen is the speaker and the proximity and light sensor. To navigate there are the four typical Android buttons „back, menue, home and search“. On the back side is a 13 MP camera, but 12 Megapixel would have been enough because Android can’t handle more at the moment. It records in 1080p. On the side is the volume speaker, the camera button and the hdmi port. Headsets can be used through the 3,5mm plug.

The first start of the system, Android 2.3.4, only takes 8 seconds, then the device is ready. Qualcomm doesn’t use any skins. It’s the standard Android system with benchmark- and developer-tools, like a terminal emulator. no Android market is present on a MDP.

There was also some manuals that came with the phone. It’s filled with 13 pages of description of the hardware and has benchmark-scores. On 24
pages Qualcomm descibes the component parts, as well as the ports and the developer tools.

The Tools – optimizations and error analysis

Before you start to develop a game or a concept, you usually check out the competition. Besides some bugs it’s usually the performance that draws attention. Gamers are very sensible when it comes to performance. If you want to ged rid of this problem, Qualcomm is giving you a few mighty tools for that.

The tools are separated in two categories. The Trepn Profiler for example is a monitor that displays the workload of all components like CPU, GPS, memory or even the camera. The AllJoyn P2P Technology on the other side is a SDK, with which you can implement multiplayer (via Ad-Hoc) into games. Besides the Snapdragon Plattform Qualcomm is also investing into sideprojects that explore future technology, for example Augmented Reality. With the AR SDK you can develop apps and games in C++.

As a game developer the focus will most likely be on the graphics chip. Of course Qualcomm knows that and presents a gigantic selection of tools. What we mean when we say „gigantic“? Here’s a short selection: User interfaces, animations and graphics can be created with the IKIVO Animator. In IKIVO DIE you don’t just write your games, you also get Tools for debugging and for testing. The Adreno SDK brings OpenGL ES libraries as well as docuimentation, code snippets and more tools. Thanks to the Adreno Profiler you can find performance heavy lines of code and visualize them live. Qualcomm also gives you some Demos, to show off the possibilities of the Adreno GPU.

„But what about fragmentation?“ is the next question developers will ask. Even though Qualcomm is using the Adreno 220 GPU, you can use the tools for older Adreno Generations like the Adreno 200 and 205. Through the steady continuation in the development of processors including graphic chips, Qualcomm is able to deliver complete systems at a low price point, the perfect conditions for „Low-Cost
Smartphones“. They deliver enough power, but won’t put a huge hole in the buyers pocket, as it would be with a high end phone. Adreno
205 processors are already available in phones for under 300 Euro, but deliver the same graphical power as a iPhone 4. The Adreno 220 trumps the A5 from Apple in CPU- and GPU performance, but is only used in a few new devices like the HTC Sensation at the moment. But this will change soon according to Qualcomm – a lot of OEMs have already ordered the new processor.We also tested a device with a Adreno 220 Chip getestet: the HTC Evo 3D,
here is our review of it.

CPU programming – more than just preproduction
It’s wrong to state optimization for the processor alone would suffice, to make a game perform well and make it use ressources sparingly. The tools in the Android SDK are always mandatory for development. But it would be just as wrong to dismiss the potential behind the Qualcomm-Tools. Through the processor-oriented programming speed hogs can be cured early in the development process.Of course the game that you develop matters, casual games á la Angry Birds will not profit that much. But when you develop with OpenGL ES 2.0 and high resolution graphics, you’ll want your visuals to be butter smooth. Since this year tablets are also a hot topic. Even though Qualcomm was leapfroged on this front by nVidia, it looks like there will be Snapdragon (Dual-Core) powered Tablets soon on the market. When you already have games for Snapdragon Smartphones, you’ll be able to save money and time on optimizations.

When to buy?
Unlike smartphones in the open market the Qualcomm MDP always costs 1350$ Dollar. It will be up to date until the first Quard-Core CPUs will be demonstrated by the company. This will probably happen around the middle/end of 2012. Then the price will be lowered. Studios, that work on a big project and want it to be optimized in graphics and speed can order the device here.