Adreno, Connectivity, Security

The immersion pillar is where Qualcomm talks about performance improvements. The biggest component in this space is the new Adreno 540 GPU. It is based on the same basic design as the Adreno 4x series of GPUs with no drastic changes to the architecture itself. Still, Qualcomm claims SD 835 has a 25% GPU performance advantage over the SD 820. Where does that come from? Again, with some vague comments throughout our meetings, I learned that engineers looked for the primary bottlenecks and addressed them with small tweaks. Z-culling was improved to minimize work on occluded pixels. Draw order independent depth projection was added. Tweaks to the ALUs. Higher order mipmaps and mipmap level swapping.

Regardless of how it’s done, a 25% increase in rendering capability should directly translate to improved gaming and VR experiences on Snapdragon 835.

Other changes in the GPU block are on the display and video processing side. The DPU (display processing unit) now supports 10-bit 4K 60 Hz panels and output, wide color gamut (HDR) and a new feature called Q-Sync (think G-Sync for mobile devices). The VPU (video processing unit) can now handle 10-bit 4K HEVC playback and foveated video. HDR10 may not be a big deal for the current generation of phones, and you could debate the usefulness of HDR screens that are 5 inches and smaller, but the ability to output to larger screens, or for Snapdragon SoCs to be used in set-top boxes, makes this a necessary check box in 2017.

Q-Sync is interesting to me as I have a lot of experience with both NVIDIA G-Sync and AMD FreeSync on the desktop side of gaming. With Q-Sync the displays is refreshed at the same FPS that the GPU is rendering at, helping to remove stutter and jank from the gaming experience. This could be great if properly implemented, but I have questions that are unanswered about how many screens will support it, what the frame rate ranges are, how Qualcomm will handle low frame rate compensation and who is ultimately going to be responsible for the Q-Sync experience.

The other pillars require a bit more time for me to dive into the technologies that make them up, but are worth mentioning here on launch day. The capture pillar focuses on the new Spectra 180 ISP and its dual 14-bit nature capable of 32MP or dual 16MP camera modules. This ISP allows the Snapdragon 835 to offer hardware accelerated HDR and drastically improved autofocus speed (with an emphasis on low light scenarios).

Under the connectivity pillar falls the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem, capable of up to Gigabit speeds. It also integrates 802.11ad multi-Gigabit Wi-Fi support (offering up to 4.6 Gbps peak speed) into the platform. Gigabit LTE networks are still in the build-out phase, though both T-Mobile in the US and Telstra in Australia have rollout plans for 2017. The new WCN 3990 Wi-Fi controller as part of Snapdragon 835 enables 802.11ac support with 2×2 MU-MIMO with 50-60% smaller footprint and power consumption than the previous generation.

Finally, one of the most important pillars: security. The inclusion of the new Haven Security Platform provides hardware-based protection for user authentication and device attestation. By integrating this at the SoC level, Qualcomm can create a secure execution environment for things like a secure camera, secure fingerprint reader, and app/OS integrity checks.

There is still a lot to learn about Qualcomm’s latest flagship Snapdragon 835 SoC. With access to hardware in the coming weeks and months we should be able to layout the argument for or against it by measuring performance, effective power efficiency, and its ability to excel in workloads like VR and 4K video playback and capture. The Snapdragon 820 created a new landscape in the smartphone market, one where Qualcomm’s claims and partner devices are under more scrutiny. After a course correction with the SD 821, the company needs a homerun with the new Snapdragon 835. The early information looks promising and I am looking forward to evaluating its execution.

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