Qualcomm’s “Fire-Breathing” Snapdragon 865 (5G Next Generation)
Before Apple produced its first ever ARM-based processor, Qualcomm had been in the business for quite some time. Their Snapdragon series processors are used in millions of mobile devices around the world. The Snapdragon also appears in flagship smartphones, providing the processing power needed to browse the Internet, access cellular networks and take stunning photos. It seems that Apple gets more attention because of their branding, while Qualcomm seems to be more behind the scenes.
The Snapdragon 865 SoC is Qualcomm’s answer to what the company calls “smarter, better, faster” processing for mobile devices. Before the M1 from Apple, Qualcomm was already producing energy efficient chips used in smartphones. Apple had the same thing in mind as they plan to bring further vertical integration into their products. Unfortunately, Qualcomm does not have their own line of products in the market compared to Apple.
The needs for delivering faster data speeds, AI integration and superior imaging is what is driving the mobile industry. Chips like the Apple A14 Bionic, Samsung’s Exynos and Huawei’s Kirin processor are all competing to bring the best user experience and performance in the market. Qualcomm is perhaps their biggest competitor in terms of market share. Even Samsung uses Qualcomm products, like the Snapdragon 865 in their Galaxy S20 flagship.
1x Cortex A77 @ 2.84GHz 1x512KB pL2
3x Cortex A77 @ 2.42GHz 3x256KB pL2
4x Cortex A55 @ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2
Qualcomm® Kryo™ 585 CPU
Adreno 650 @ 587 MHz
Dual 14-bit Spectra 480 ISP
64MP ZSL or 2x 25 MP ZSL
4K video & 64 MP burst capture
7 nm TSMC
The 865 is 25% more powerful than the previous 855 model. The performance is being aimed at improving AI processing, photography and gaming applications. AI is primarily used for imaging and intelligent applications. Enhancing photography is also an important part of the design, as cameras become more computation-based image processing. Perhaps it is the gaming arena where Qualcomm wants to capitalize on as it is one the fastest growing industries in tech.
The 865 AI features include the 5th-generation Qualcomm AI Engine and Sensing Hub. It integrates well with intelligent assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Qualcomm is providing developers to build applications on top of this AI platform. This allows smart speakers to get a better contextual awareness and more accurate voice detection.
On the gaming front, the 865 will provide support for smartphones with a 144 Hz refresh rate. This is in line with mobile gaming applications that render fast graphics. That acceleration in graphics will be provided by the Adreno 650 GPU. This brings desktop level gaming to smartphones that run the Snapdragon 865 processor.
The chip incorporates 5G support on the Snapdragon 865 and 865+ as a separate chip on the X55 modem (external). The main benefit here is the maximum download speed for data can reach up to 7 Gbps. That is significantly faster than WiFi ac speeds used in most homes and commercial settings. Users can stream without lag and run multiple applications which the processor can scale. The 865 and 865+ will support the following 5G Spectrum Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), mmWave (800 MHz bandwidth, 8 carriers, 2x2 MIMO) and sub-6 GHz (200 MHz bandwidth, 4x4 MIMO). It will also support the WiFi 6 standard in addition to 5G.
The more premium flagship chip is the 865+. It will improve upon the 865 in the following ways:
- Clock speed boost to 3.1 GHz, 10% higher than standard 865
- Adreno 650 GPU, 10% faster graphics rendering
- Compatibility with FastConnect 6900 connectivity suite, supporting WiFi speeds up to 3.6 Gbps
I don’t have benchmarks available to share but performance, as reported by Android Authority are great in terms of efficiency. While the performance indicators are marginal, it is still significant in terms of the power efficiency. The overall boost from the 865 is 25% to both performance and efficiency. Like other ARM-based processors, it has a great performance per watt indicator. This is due to the smaller efficiency cores designed on the chip. This consists of 4 Cortex-A55 cores with 128kb L2 caches and 1.8 GHz clock speeds.
The more efficient operation of the chip leads to longer lasting battery life. As the chip becomes available on the latest smartphones, it shall be put to the test. A good reason for more power savings has to do with less charging and better performance with less power consumption. Power hungry chips are a thing of the past with RISC-based instruction set processors like the Snapdragon providing more performance per watt.
The 875 is already in the works and there are reports that it has an even better performance than the 865 and 865+. Perhaps what most would want to see is the modem integration on the chip rather than having to use a separate external modem to get faster data speeds. While the talk of the town maybe Apple’s A series chips, you can never underestimate Qualcomm Snapdragon. They are moving in the same direction with AI, gaming and advanced photography and this should result in better product options for consumers and better iterations to come.