Introduction and CPU Performance

An early look at the performance of the newest Snapdragon SoC

We had a chance this week to go hands-on with the Snapdragon 820, the latest flagship SoC from Qualcomm, in a hardware session featuring prototype handsets powered by this new silicon. How did it perform? Read on to find out!

As you would expect from an all-new flagship part, the Snapdragon 820 offers improvements in virtually every category compared to their previous products. And with the 820 Qualcomm is emphasizing not only performance, but lower power consumption with claims of anywhere from 20% to 10x better efficiency across the components that make up this new SoC. And part of these power savings will undoubtedly come as the result of Qualcomm’s decision to move to a quad-core design with the 820, rather than the 8-core design of the 810.

So what exactly does comprise a high-end SoC like the Snapdragon 820? Ryan covered the launch in detail back in November (and we introduced aspects of the new SoC in a series of articles leading up to the launch). In brief, the Snapdragon 820 includes a custom quad-core CPU (Kryo), the Andreno 530 GPU, a new DSP (Hexagon 680), new ISP (Spectra), and a new LTE modem (X12). The previous flagship Snapdragon 810 used stock ARM cores (Cortex-A57, Cortex-A53) in a big.LITTLE configuration, but for various reasons Qualcomm has chosen not to introduce another 8-core SoC with this new product.

The four Kryo CPU cores found in the Snapdragon 820 can operate at speeds of up to 2.2 GHz, and since is half the number of the octo-core Snapdragon 810, the IPC (instructions per clock) of this new part will help determine how competitive the SD820's performance will be; but there’s a lot more to the story. This SoC design placed equal emphasis on all components therein, and the strategy with the SD820 seems to be leveraging the capability of the advanced signal processing (Hexagon 680) which should help offload the work to allow the CPU to work with greater efficiency, and at lower power.

Of course we can’t adequately measure the impact that these potential power savings will have on battery life (and thermals) until we have shipping hardware in hand, so this preview will simply focus on a few benchmarks to at least provide an idea of where the new SoC sits in relation to the market (and its predecessors). Speaking of its predecessors, below is a table of the tested devices using Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs.

  Snapdragon 820 Reference Platform Snapdragon 810 Reference Platform Google Nexus 6 OnePlus One
SoC Snapdragon 820 Snapdragon 810 Snapdragon 805 Snapdragon 801
CPU Cores Custom 2.2 GHz Quad-Core Kryo Quad-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A57
Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53
Quad-core 2.7 GHz Krait 450 Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400
GPU Cores Adreno 530 Adreno 430 Adreno 420 Adreno 330
RAM 4GB LPDDR4-1866 4GB LPDDR4-1600 3GB LPDDR3-1600 3GB LPDDR3-1600
Network Snapdragon X12 LTE Cat 12/13 Qulalcomm Cat 9 LTE Qualcomm MDM9x25 UE Category 4 LTE Qualcomm MDM9x25 UE Category 4 LTE
Connectivity Qualcomm VIVE 802.11ac
2x2 MU-MIMO, tri-band Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.1
USB 3.0
802.11a/b/g/n/ac (Wave 2) (2.4/5 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.1
USB 3.0
802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.1
USB 2.0
802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.1
USB 2.0
OS Android 6.0 Android 5.0.2 Android 5.0.1 Android 4.4.4

For a look at the complete specs for the other platforms tested you can reference the expanded table in our Snapdragon 810 performance preview.

The Snapdragon 820 Reference Platform

This new reference platform hardware was considerably different than the thick, boxy hardware Ryan tested at the beginning of this year. For the Snapdragon 820 the tech press in the room were provided with the 6.2-inch smartphone device you see here, and it actually looked like shipping hardware this time around.

The Snapdragon 820 reference hardware is the thickness of a standard phone

This is an important distinction as the far slimmer profile of these smartphone prototypes will much more accurately simulate the thermal conditions of a real smartphone, whereas the ultra-thick reference platform from the Snapdragon 810 launch probably did not.

The earlier Snapdragon 810 mobile reference platform

The SD820 reference platform is a large "phablet" design at just over 6 inches, and felt similar in hand to the Google Nexus 6, which is among the largest of the previous generation's smartphones. While the design was not particulary notable (other than the extra USB ports around the device), it's worth pointing out that the screen resolution on Qualcomm's reference hardware - a dense 2560 x 1600 - might affect graphics performance in benchmarks utilizing native resolution.

Now lets move on to some benchmark results to see how this new SoC performed!

CPU Benchmarks

Geekbench 3

Geekbench 3 is Primate Labs' cross-platform processor benchmark, with a new scoring system that separates single-core and multi-core performance, and new workloads that simulate real-world scenarios. Geekbench 3 makes it easier than ever to find out if your computer is up to speed. Every test in Geekbench 3 is multi-core aware. This allows Geekbench to show you the true potential of your system. Whether you're running Geekbench on a dual-core phone or a 32-core server, Geekbench is able to measure the performance of all the cores in your system.

Geekbench is a multi-platform benchmark that measures both single-threaded and multi-threaded CPU performance, using both integer and floating point math.

The custom Kryo cores more than hold their own in this first test, as the 820 bests all previous Snapdragon SoCs for single-threaded integer performance, and interestingly comes close to the multi-threaded performance of the previous 810, despite having half as many cores.

Floating point performance is more of the same for the 820, which had a very impressive showing in this first benchmark. This time the Snapdragon 820 managed the top score for both single and multi-threaded performance.

Google Octane

Octane 2.0 is a modern benchmark that measures a JavaScript engine’s performance by running a suite of tests representative of today’s complex and demanding web applications. Octane‘s goal is to measure the performance of JavaScript code found in large, real-world web applications, running on modern mobile and desktop browsers.

The updated Octane 2.0 benchmark includes four new tests to measure new aspects of JavaScript performance, among which: garbage collection / compiler latency and asm.js-style JavaScript performance.

Our testing with Google Octane was done exclusively on the latest version of the Chrome browser on Android, and Safari on iOS.

Here the Snapdragon 820 drops to the middle of the pack, and it remained there through multiple test runs. This may have been partly the function of immature system software with the development platform hardware, but regardless the SD820 doesn't have a good showing here.

Mozilla Kraken

Kraken is a JavaScript performance benchmark created by Mozilla that measures the speed of several different test cases extracted from real-world applications and libraries. The test cases include:

  • An implementation of the A* search algorithm
  • Audio processing using Corban Brook's DSP.js library
  • Image filtering routines, including code from Jacob Seidelin's Pixastic library.
  • JSON parsing, including data from Tinderboxpushlog
  • Cryptographic routines from the Stanford JavaScript Crypto Library

Our testing with Mozilla Kraken was done exclusively on the latest version of the Chrome browser on Android. and Safari on iOS.

Moving on to Mozilla's browser benchmark we have the lowest result among the devices tested. At this point I concluded that the Chrome browser on the Snapdragon 820 dev hardware was underperforming pretty significantly. It will be interesting to see where shipping hardware with the 820 ranks compared to these early results.

Next we'll look at some GPU benchmarks to see how the Adreno 530 graphics stack up.

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