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Why PC makers have to start paying attention to the world’s third-largest maker of microchips—Qualcomm

qualcomm chips
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Qualcomm’s high-end chips aren’t just for phones anymore.
USAPublished This article is more than 2 years old.

Qualcomm, maker of many of the microprocessors that power mobile phones and especially smartphones, released earnings on April 24, and they showed impressive growth considering that the company is already the third-largest microchip manufacturer in the world. Revenue was up 24% compared to a year earlier, and shipments of microchips rose 14%.

Qualcomm’s results for the second quarter of 2013.

But that’s not why PC manufacturers should pay attention to Qualcomm—after all, what do they care that a mobile-focused company is doing well, other than what that says about consumers’ preference for tablets and smartphones over PCs?

But like ARM, the company that creates many of the chip designs upon which Qualcomm elaborates and then sells through to companies like Samsung and HTC, Qualcomm has bigger ambitions. Specifically, it wants to tackle the market for PC chips—long the domain of Intel and AMD—head-on.

As Qualcomm’s VP of marketing recently told tech site Fudzilla, Qualcomm wants to see its highest-end “Snapdragon” processor show up in something other than bleeding-edge smartphones, namely TVs and PCs.

Already, Google’s hugely popular Chrome OS laptop from Samsung runs a processor built by Samsung (the Exynos 5 Dual) that is based on designs from ARM. So there’s no reason other PC makers couldn’t follow suit and sell notebooks powered by another powerful ARM-based processor—like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800.

Qualcomm has a second advantage over even companies like Samsung, which is that it is far and away the leading manufacturer of the chips required to communicate with high-speed 3G and 4G wireless networks. Qualcomm’s ability to integrate these chips with the main processor, to save on cost and power consumption, has already made its wares irresistible to dozens of smartphone manufacturers. So why not to makers of notebook computers, as well?

In June 2012, a Qualcomm senior vice president said Snapdragon-powered notebooks running Microsoft Windows RT were already in the works. They have yet to become available to consumers. But here’s a prediction: Whatever operating system it’s running, 2013 will see the commercial launch of a notebook running on Qualcomm’s chips—maybe even one running Google’s Chrome OS. And that’s yet another threat to the traditional PC business, and specifically Intel.

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