Qualcomm has officially begun detailing its next-generation Snapdragon 855 mobile platform at this year’s Snapdragon Tech Summit. Announced yesterday, Qualcomm’s newest mobile platform is expected to be at the heart of 2019’s most prolific flagship smartphones, and now we are able to get a glimpse of what the latest-and-greatest of Qualcomm’s designs has to offer. Here’s what we know so far.
With the Snapdragon 855, Qualcomm is once again focusing on five core pillars: performance, AI, camera, entertainment, and of course, connectivity. While Qualcomm has always been at the forefront of connectivity, in particular, it’s with the advent of 5G that the company can fully capitalize on its recent investments in harnessing mmWave frequency bands with the Snapdragon X50 Modem. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 is also upgrading two increasingly important components for modern-day smartphone experiences: the Hexagon DSP and Spectra ISP. The former processes image and sensor data and aids in AI computations. The Spectra ISP, however, has enabled many Qualcomm-powered flagship devices to stay on the bleeding edge of mobile photography, and this particular component is seeing one of its biggest upgrades yet, which we are further detailing in a separate article.
Finally, there are the core improvements in CPU and GPU performance, which Qualcomm has been steadily and respectably improving year-on-year. The Snapdragon 855 introduces the new Kryo 485 CPU cores based on ARM’s latest core designs, as well as the Adreno 640 GPU for best-in-class gaming performance, just as we’ve come to expect given Qualcomm’s sustained advantage in this front. Manufactured with TSMC’s latest 7nm FinFET process, we can expect performance and power-savings across all mobile workloads. These improvements have led to a staggering 45% uplift in CPU performance and 20% boost to GPU speeds.
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 855||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
|CPU||1 Kryo 485 ‘Prime’ (A76-based), up to 2.84GHz
3 Kryo 485 (A76-based), up 2.42GHz
4 Kryo 385 (A55-based), up 1.8GHz
45% Performance improvement over previous generation*
|4 Kryo 385 (A75-based), up 2.8GHz
4 Kryo 385 (A55-based), up 1.8GHz
25% Performance improvement over previous generation*
20% Performance improvement over previous generation*
25% Performance improvement over previous generation*
|Memory||4x 16bit, 2133MHz LPDDR4X||4x 16-bit, 1866MHz LPDDR4X|
|ISP||Dual 14-bit Spectra 380 ISP
48MP Single Camera, 22MP Dual Camera
4K 60FPS HDR video with real-time object segmentation (portrait mode, background swap)
|Dual 14-bit Spectra 280 ISP
32MP Single Camera, 16MP Dual Camera
4K 60FPS HDR video
|Modem||Snapdragon X24 LTE
2000Mbps DL (Cat. 20), 316Mbps UL (Cat 20)
Snapdragon X50 (5G Modem)
5000 Mbps DL
|Snapdragon X20 LTE
1200Mbps DL (Cat. 18), 150Mbps UL (Cat 13).
|Manufacturing Process||7nm (TSMC)||10nm LPP (Samsung)|
*Based on figures provided by Qualcomm at respective time of release.
Qualcomm Artificial Intelligence Engine
- Qualcomm Hexagon 690 Processor
- Qualcomm Adreno 640 GPU
- Qualcomm Kryo 485 CPU
- Snapdragon X24 LTE modem LTE Category 20
- Snapdragon X50 5G modem (for 5G devices)
- Qualcomm Wi-Fi 6-ready mobile platform: 802.11ax-ready, 802.11ac Wave 2, 802.11a/b/g/n.
- Qualcomm 60 GHz Wi-Fi mobile platform: 802.11ay, 802.11ad
- Bluetooth Version: 5.0
- Bluetooth Speed: 2 Mbps
- High accuracy location with dual-frequency GNSS
Qualcomm Spectra 380 Image Signal Processor
- Dual 14-bit CV-ISPs; 22MP @30 fps concurrent dual cameras; 48MP @ 30 fps single camera
- Hardware CV functions including object detection & tracking (Histogram of Oriented Gradients, Harris Corner Detection, Normalized Cross Correlation, Linear classification and optical flow) and stereo depth processing
- Advanced HDR solution including improved zzHDR and 3-exposure Quad Color Filter Array (QCFA) HDR
- 4K60 HDR video capture (HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG) with Portrait Mode (bokeh), 10-bit color depth and Rec. 2020 color gamut
- Hardware-based Multi-Frame Noise Reduction (MFNR) for snapshot and Motion Compensated Temporal noise Filtering (MCTF) for video
- Hardware-based Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) solution within camera subsystem
- A new modular ISP design with more flexibility to tap in and out of the imaging pipeline both in the RAW and YUV pixel domains
- High frame rate capture for slow motion video (720p @ 480fps)
- HEIF photo capture, HEVC (H.265) video capture
- Qualcomm Aqstic audio technology
- Qualcomm aptX support, including classic aptX, aptX HD and aptX adaptive
- Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus
Qualcomm Adreno Visual Subsystem
- Adreno 640 GPU
- Vulkan 1.1 API support
- HDR gaming (10-bit color depth, rec 2020 color gamut)
- Physically Based Rendering
- API Support: OpenGL ES 3.2, OpenCL 2.0 FP, Vulkan 1.1
- Maximum On-Device Display Support: Up to 4K HDR
- Maximum External Display Support: Up to two 4K HDR displays
- Hardware-accelerated H.265 and VP9 decoder
- HDR Playback Codec support for HDR10+, HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision
- Volumetric VR video playback
- 8K 360 VR video playback
Qualcomm Kryo 485 CPU
- One prime core clock speed: Up to 2.84GHz
- Three performance cores clock speed: Up to 2.42GHz
- Four efficiency cores clock speed: Up to 1.80GHz
- Architecture: 64-bit
- 7nm Process Technology
Qualcomm Hexagon 690 Processor
- Secure Processing capability
- Quad threaded Scalar Core
- Four Qualcomm Hexagon Vector eXtensions (HVX)
- Qualcomm Hexagon Tensor Accelerator
- Qualcomm Hexagon Voice Assistant
- Qualcomm All-Ways Aware technology
- Qualcomm Biometric Authentication Suite: Fingerprint, Qualcomm Iris Authentication, Voice, Face, Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit enabling mobile payments
- Qualcomm 3D Sonic Sensor
Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+ Technology
- Memory Speed: 2133MHz
- Memory Type: 4x16bit, LPDDR4x
Component & Feature Breakdown
7nm Process, Kryo 485 CPU & Adreno 640 GPU
The Snapdragon 855 is Qualcomm’s first 7nm FinFET chipset, releasing on the heels of the Kirin 980 and Apple A12, the first commercially available 7nm mobile platforms. This isn’t a surprise, given that Qualcomm traditionally opts for the cutting-edge process size, and that the company confirmed they had been sampling their 7nm Snapdragon flagship chipset. The move to 7nm enables increased transistor density while delivering improvements in performance and power efficiency on the order of 20% and 40% respectively, though that’s compared to TSMC’s own 10nm FinFET process. As for the Snapdragon 855’s CPU performance, Qualcomm states we should expect performance improvements of up to 45% over the Snapdragon 845, one of the largest year-on-year performance bumps the company has put forth in recent history.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855’s octa-core CPU arrangement is also introducing the company’s Kryo 485 cores clocked at 2.42GHz for the performance cluster and 1.8GHz for the low-power cluster. On top of that, and as rumors had suggested, the Snapdragon 855 is introducing a ‘prime’ cluster clocked up to 2.84Ghz. The Kryo 485 is a semi-custom core design, delivered in concert with the system architecture while providing some quality-of-service optimizations. The Gold cores are based on ARM’s Cortex-A76 architecture, which promised performance improvements of up to 35% and a 40% power-efficiency boost, while the Silver cores are based on the Cortex A55, as seen on the Snapdragon 845. The Built on ARM Cortex license should still be quite limiting, but the results must be promising given the figures Qualcomm provided (and how such figures have coincided with performance in the past). Knowing what these cores are based on should give us a good idea of what to expect as well.
We also learned about the new Adreno 640 GPU, and what Qualcomm calls the “Snapdragon Elite Gaming Experience”, a set of features and partnerships meant to improve mobile gaming on Snapdragon devices. The company’s new Adreno 640 GPU stays ahead of the curve by offering a healthy 20% performance improvement over the Adreno 630 found in last year’s Snapdragon 845. While the Adreno line has offered top performance for many generations now, it’s also worth noting that we can expect the Adreno 640 to continue leading performance per watt as well. With 50% more arithmetic logic units (ALU), the Adreno 640 should further accelerate performance in AI workloads.
Qualcomm recognizes the increasing popularity of mobile gaming, particularly in regions like India and China, but also due to the arrival of acclaimed titles like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Because of this, the company is working closely with game engine developers as well as game studios to make sure popular games are optimized for Snapdragon devices. Moreover, Qualcomm and Unity are looking to ease the transition to physically-based rendering (PBR) on mobile titles, bringing a new level of realism to video game graphics. Finally, while the Snapdragon 835 and Snapdragon 845 allowed playback and capture (respectively) of 10-bit, true HDR video, the Snapdragon 855 will be the first mobile chipset that allows for true HDR gaming. With the Snapdragon 675, Qualcomm introduced a ‘custom algorithm’ that they claimed would reduce dropped frames in games by up to 90%—while we still don’t know much more about this feature, the Snapdragon 855 will be implementing this as well. All of this coupled with Vulkan 1.1 support and the improvements seen on the Kryo 485 should result in significant gaming performance enhancements.
Spectra 380 ISP-CV, Hexagon 690 DSP & 5G
The Spectra 380 ISP brings some of the most important improvements to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, and the company is calling it the first CV-ISP on mobile (CV standing for computer vision). In a media briefing, Qualcomm representatives explained that this ISP borrows from the compute units of the CPU, GPU, and DSP that aid computer vision tasks and puts them directly on the module, to free up cycles from other components while increasing performance and the amount of available horsepower. Due to the integrated, hardware-accelerated CV capabilities, the Spectra 380 can offer improved performance in object classification, object segmentation, and depth-sensing, while seeing power savings of up to 75%. Thanks to these advancements, we can expect new features such as bokeh video, as well as the world’s first 4K HDR video capture with portrait mode or background swap, on top of HDR10+ video capture. Photography will see benefits from the improved object segmentation as well, enabling real-time background swaps and better portrait mode shots.
While the company isn’t explicitly introducing a “neural processing unit,” AI workloads will also benefit from the new-and-improved Hexagon 690 DSP, which doubled the number of vector accelerators (HVX) from two to four to work in tandem with the four scalar threads. On top of that, the Hexagon 690 brings the first tensor accelerator for mobile with the Hexagon Tensor Accelerator (HTA). Improvements to the DSP should translate into improved voice assistant performance from hotword detection to on-device command parsing, offering improved echo cancellation and noise suppression, for example. Qualcomm stresses that they provide a complete heterogeneous compute platform that allows AI workload to tap into either the CPU, GPU, or DSP, or any combination of the three blocks. The “Qualcomm AI Engine” goes beyond hardware too, as we also find support for the Snapdragon Neural Processing SDK and Hexagon NN to access the aforementioned blocks, as well as the Android NN API, and popular ML frameworks such as Caffe/Caffe 2, TensorFlow/Lite, and ONNX (Open Neural Network Exchange). To learn more about the Hexagon DSP, check out last year’s piece detailing how it helps with AI workloads.
Finally, when it comes to connectivity, the Snapdragon 855 is Qualcomm’s “Gigabit everything” chipset. The Snapdragon 855 packs the world’s first Wi-Fi6 11ax-ready mobile solution, with features like 8×8 sounding to serve more devices efficiently, the latest security with WPA3, and up to 67% better power efficiency. What’s more, it’s also 60Ghz Wi-Fi-capable, with the 802.11ay-based platform taking Wi-Fi speeds up to 10Gbps as well as even lower latency. As expected from a new Qualcomm chipset, the Snapdragon 855 improved data connection speeds of up to 2Gbps Cat 20 LTE with the Snapdragon X24 LTE modem. The Snapdragon X24 modem thus delivers twice the peak download speed of the previous-generation LTE modem through 4×4 MIMO on five aggregated LTE carriers and provides support of Cat 20 upload speeds of up to 316 Mbps. On top of that, OEMs will be able to also opt for the Snapdragon X50 5G modem, with support for sub-6GHz and mmWave frequency bands, for up to 5Gbps download speeds with unprecedented latency. Qualcomm claims that in the mmWave frequency band, users can expect up to 20x faster average performance compared to current commercial solutions. Of course, the latter will not make much of an impact at the time of release given the rate of deployment of 5G networks. Verizon has had a limited rollout of 5G across four cities (with limited download speeds of about 300Mbps), for example, but the world at large will have to wait a bit longer to make use of these connectivity improvements. To learn more about the plans for 5G deployment in 2019, check out our piece from yesterday.
As usual, you can expect the Snapdragon 855 to be featured in 2019’s most prolific devices—especially given Qualcomm’s advantage in 5G connectivity, and multiple OEMs having teased or announced 5G-enabled devices for next year. The 2018 Snapdragon Tech Summit is far from over, and there’s still a lot more to learn about the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. Check out our more in-depth article on the latest changes to the Snapdragon 855 here. For more information, stay tuned to XDA-Developers, as we’ll have a lot more Snapdragon 855 news and content throughout the week.
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