After yesterday's initial announcement of the Snapdragon 855 name and teasing a few key features, today Qualcomm has gone into more detail about what makes this new SoC tick.
Starting from the top, we have the new Kryo 485 CPU cores.
The CPU cores found in Kryo 485 are based on arm's A75 design with some customizations by Qualcomm in regards to data prefetch, and the out-of-order execution window size. Overall, Qualcomm is claiming a 45% performance boost for the Kryo 485 compared to the Kryo cores found in the Snapdragon 845 due to IPC increase generation-to-generation.
Moving away from the BIG.little design seen in previous Snapdragon implementations, Snapdragon 855 is now utilizing what Qualcomm is referring to as a "Prime Core." Like BIG.little, the Prime Core setup consists of a set of four performance cores and four efficiency cores. The difference comes in the Prime Core itself, which is a part of the performance cores but can achieve an even higher clock speed than the rest of the performance cores (2.84 GHz vs. 2.42GHz).
Moving onto the GPU, we have some sizable improvements on in the Adreno 640. Qualcomm is claiming a 20% performance increase in graphics rendering when compared to the Adreno 630 GPU found in Snapdragon 835.
Another area of focus is sustained performance. Qualcomm claims that the Snapdragon 855 with Adreno 640 graphics provides a much more consistent performance outlook than other competitor's SoCs built on 7nm (likely Apple and Huawei).
On the AI front, Qualcomm has made some major changes with what they are referring to as their “4th generation AI engine.” The AI engine consists of the Kryo CPU cores, Adreno GPU cores, and the all-new Hexagon 690 DSP.
The Hexagon 690 DSP has gone through an overhaul, introducing Tensor processing units for the first time as well as performance increases for the scalar and vector cores.
Developers will be able to target all of the AI engine through the use of integration with Google’s NN API on Android to help simplify picking the right hardware for a given AI task.
In addition to the AI capabilities found in the AI engine, there have been some major changes to the Spectra Image Signal Processor (ISP) to enable AI workloads on photos and videos with major power savings.
Touted as the world’s first “Computer Vision” ISP, the Spectra 380 provides some exciting capabilities without having to use the AI engine. For example, Snapdragon 855 thanks to the new Spectra 380 will not only be capable of “Portrait mode” photos as we’ve seen in many smartphones but now will be able to process the same portrait effect real-time for video, up to 4K HDR 60FPS.
Some other capabilities of the CV-enabled Spectra ISP include object detection, which can be used for things such as real-time background replacement, in which you’ll be able to see the effect rendered in the preview window of your camera app, before even taking the photo.
Also on the Spectra side of things, Qualcomm is looking to make some changes on the image capture front, namely in the file format. While most Android phones currently use JEPG to capture images, Qualcomm with Snapdragon 855 is touting the advantages of the newer High-Efficiency Image File (HEIF) format.
HEIF not only improves file sizes by using an encoding pattern based on H265, but also enables some exciting new metadata for things like HDR color data, Depth data, and multiple focal points. This new common metadata format should help software adoption of some of these new camera features.
While Apple has been using HEIF for a few years now in iOS, Qualcomm says they are merely using it for the file size savings, and not taking advantage of these new extensions.
Ultimately, this change will still lie in the software and phone vendors, so it remains to be seen if we’ll see large-scale adoption of HEIF as phones start to ship with Snapdragon 855 next year.
As Qualcomm focused on yesterday, Snapdragon 855 will also be the platform that enables the first 5G capable phones, set to hit the market in the first half of 2019 from vendors such as Samsung. While the Snapdragon 855 will have to be paired with an additional modem in the form of Snapdragon X50 to achieve 5G, the integrated X24 modem still has some new connectivity features up its sleeve.
The primary upgrade in the Snapdragon X24 modem is the ability to go beyond Gigabyte LTE, with speeds of up to 2Gbps on LTE networks through the use of technologies like 7 Carrier Aggregation and 20 LTE layers. Techniques like these should help bridge the gap between 4G and 5G while 5G networks are being built out and coverage is sparse.
On the Wi-Fi front, the Snapgradon X24 modem in Snapdragon 855 will be capable of both Wifi-6 (802.11ax) as well as 60GHz 802.11ay (the successor to 802.11ad). However, it will depend on the handset manufacturers as to whether or not these technologies are implemented in the RF and antenna design stages.
Overall, Snapdragon 855 looks to be a promising upgrade over the previous Snapdragon 845 in many areas. Stay tuned for more news from the Snapdragon Tech Summit, including tomorrow's focus of always on always connected PCs featuring Snapdragon SoCs.