Graphics Performance and Conclusion

The Snapdragon 845 features Qualcomm's Adreno 630, which is categorized as a "Visual Processing Subsystem". This latest Adreno is based on new architecure and provides "significantly improved graphics rendering and video processing compared to the previous generation" according to Qualcomm, who list these features for the Adreno 630:

  • New Architecture for graphics, video and display processing
  • 30% faster graphics rendering
  • 30% more power efficient for all visual processing
  • 2.5X higher display throughput
  • Open GL ES 3.2, Open CL 2.0, Vulkan, DirectX 12
  • Ultra HD Premium video playback and encoding @ 4K (3840×2160) 60fps, 10bit HDR, Rec 2020 color gamut
  • Slow motion HEVC video encoding of either HD (720p) video up to 480fps or FHD (1080p) up to 240fps
  • H.264 (AVC), H.265 (HEVC), VP9, DisplayPort over USB Type-C support
  • eXtended Reality (XR)
  • Room-Scale 6DoF with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM)
  • 2400×2400 @ 120 FPS per eye
  • Adreno Foveation: multiple technology advancements for multi-view, tile-based foveation with eye-tracking and fine grain preemption  

Support for the latest in graphics APIs such as OpenGL ES 3.2 and technolgies such as Foveation provides interesting possibilities for mobile gaming and VR/AR applications, but for our quick preview with the reference device we stuck with known benchmarks to provide a glimpse of where the new Adreno 630 sits in relation to existing mobile platform GPUs.

First up we have results from some familiar GFXBench tests, run as usual using the offscreen 1920×1080 mode for a fair comparison between devices with varying native display resolutions:

Manhattan is an OpenGL ES 3.0 test, and here Apple's A11 Bionic had built up an impressive lead over the Snapdragon 835. The Adreno 630 places the Qualcomm's flagship platform at the top of the list once again, as the Snapdragon 845 well-equipped to handle ES 3.0 graphics. What about the previous ES 2.0 mobile API?

In the T-Rex offscreen test we see the A11 Bionic still on top – by a margin small enough to make this an effective tie. (Thermals play a bigger role in graphics benchmarks than in CPU tests, so without testing the phones in identical ambient scenarios I wouldn't place either of these ahead.) As this is a reference platform we will have to wait and see who ends up on top when the Snapdragon 845 begins shipping in handsets later this year.

Enough speculation on ES 2.0 results (which could be bottlenecked by the CPU anyhow), here is another ES 3.0 benchmark:

This time the results are so close it might as well be the same score. Evenly matched! But how about a more demanding test? For this we look at 3DMark, and the unlimited versions of the Sling Shot and Sling Shot Extreme benchmarks.

Once again the Adreno 630 in the Snapdragon 845 platform is neck and neck with the A11 Bionic, though these results are complicated by the fact that Apple's proprietary Metal API is used in place of OpenGL on the iOS side. In any case, the Adreno 630 is ahead overall, though the A11 Bionic has a higher graphics subscore.

Next we try out the punishing Sling Shot Extreme test:

A bigger margin of victory for the Adreno 630 here, and this time it is faster in every category. Clearly Adreno graphics are still head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to cutting-edge mobile graphics, and looking over these results it is clear that both Qualcomm and Apple have a significant lead over the ARM Mali-G71 found in the Kirin 960, as this Huawei implementation finishes very far back in these demanding graphics tests. The Mali-G71 is scalable from 1 – 32 cores, and Huawei's Kirin 960 is using an 8-core variant. A higher core count seems necessary to compete using the stock ARM GPU, though at the cost of added power/heat. (As a footnote, ARM's second-generation Bifrost architecture GPU, the Mali-G72, offers 40% greater performance than its precessor, according to ARM. The Huawei Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro use the Mali-G72 MP12 GPU, though we have yet to test one of these devices.)

Conclusion

We will have to wait for shipping handsets to fully evaluate the Snapdragon 845 as a complete mobile platform, and aspects of this new design point to enhancements to the overall experience beyond improved performance in synthetic benchmarks. Still, it is promising to see such impressive gains in CPU and especially GPU performance compared to last year's Snapdragon 835, and the move to 10 nm LPP (Low Power Plus) process technology and lower-voltage LPDDR4X memory could spell improvements to device battery life as well.

Media time with a development platform is always short – even if you snag a second handset

The Snapdragon 845 will be in shipping handsets soon enough, and with Samsung's Galaxy S9 by all reports to be announced at MWC later this month we will know soon enough if that highly anticipated device will make use of this new Qualcomm platform (at least in the US). One thing is certain: competiton is heating up and Apple's massive lead with the A11 Bionic will be significantly reduced with the next generation of flagship Android devices powered by the Snapdragon 845.

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