Qualcomm has a lot riding on its new flagship Snapdragon 820 SoC. After a troubled run with the Snapdragon 810 that saw it grapple with overheating and thermal throttling, the company trotted out the Snapdragon 820, which it said had been designed from the ground up to improve performance, power efficiency, and the overall user experience.
Many manufacturers clearly agreed. At MWC 2016, Qualcomm had a sweep of all the major smartphone launches, turning up in flagships from brands like Samsung, LG, and Xiaomi. As testament to the amount of effort it put into the chip, Qualcomm even announced individual components separately so it could properly highlight their capabilities.
If you’re holding out for a flagship device upgrade later this year, here’s a look at the different components of Snapdragon 820’s heterogeneous computing architecture, which comprises different functional cores working together for better performance.
QUAD-CORE KRYO CPU
More cores isn’t always better. Kryo is Qualcomm’s first custom-designed 64-bit CPU core that has been engineered expressly to work with the other elements of the SoC, and the Snapdragon 820 has four of these.
They are split into two dual-core clusters that are optimized to operate at different frequencies and power levels. The two cores in the lower power cluster operate up to 1.6GHz and share a 512KB L2 cache, while the other two in the high-performance cluster can go up to 2.2GHz and share a larger 1MB L2 cache.
The benefit of a dual-cluster design like this is that they can split workloads according to how demanding they are. So if the phone was running low-intensity tasks like web surfing or texting, the low-power cluster would fire up. But launch a graphically intensive game, and the performance-oriented cluster would take over. The overall result of this is lower consumption and better battery life.
Furthermore, Kryo is based on Samsung’s efficient 14nm Low Power Plus FinFET process, so overheating issues should be a thing of the past.
ADRENO 530 GPU
This is Qualcomm’s highest performing GPU, which can reportedly deliver up to 40% more performance than the Adreno 430 GPU on the Snapdragon 810. In fact, Qualcomm is also claiming a similar 40% reduction in power consumption compared to the previous generation chip, so you should be able to run more demanding games for longer.
The GPU operates between 133MHz and 634MHz, and features small architectural tweaks over the Adreno 430 for further improvements. For instance, it now makes better use of data compression when handling and moving data around in order to lower power consumption. Video processing is also another area where Qualcomm has achieved marked increases in compute performance, up to 2.5x better than the Adreno 400 series GPU.
The Adreno 530 will also support Vulkan 1.0, the recently-released cross-platform, open-source API. Vulkan gives game and application developers explicit control over the GPU’s resources and allows them to leverage multi-threaded architectures more effectively, and support for Vulkan thus positions Snapdragon 820-equipped phones to enjoy the improved performance and experience offered by applications that use Vulkan.
The Spectra ISP supports three simultaneous cameras (one front, two rear) at up to 25-megapixels and at 30fps with no shutter lag. It also features 14-bit dual ISPs that can offer more natural skin tones in photos. In addition, it utilizes a flexible hybrid autofocus framework and multi-sensor fusion algorithms for the next generation of computational photography.
Scenes with challenging lighting are also a strength of the Spectra ISP, and it supports technologies like dynamic Local Tone Mapping that remaps tones upon each other to simulate the appearance of HDR images and boost detail in scenes with a wide dynamic range.
HEXAGON 680 DSP
The Hexagon 680 DSP comprises three parts for different, specialized tasks – one for processing audio, voice, images and other low-power compute tasks, a “low-power island” for specially designated sensors, and a third modem DSP that handles global LTE and tasks like carrier aggregation.
This is the first time Qualcomm has implemented a completely separate DSP for sensor processing with the “low-power island”, which can improve the battery life of devices during always-on scenarios, for instance when it is being used as an activity tracker.
In addition, Qualcomm is citing extra horsepower thanks to something called Hexagon Vector eXtensions (HVX). HVX supports advanced imaging and computer vision when paired with the Spectra ISP. So if you wanted to snap a picture in a poorly-lit room, the SoC would use both ISP and DSP to brighten areas of photos on-the-fly that would otherwise be too dark.
The LG G5 is just one of the latest flagships to feature the Snapdragon 820.
X12 LTE MODEM
The integrated X12 LTE modem is the first to support up to 600Mbps Cat 12 LTE in the downlink, and up to 150Mbps Cat 13 LTE in the uplink. It also supports LTE-U, a technology that attempts to boost downlink speeds by utilizing the unlicensed 5GHz spectrum that has been traditionally used by Wi-Fi.
On top of that, you get support for 2x2 MU-MIMO for 802.11ac Wi-Fi and support for 802.11ad connectivity, a new wireless standard that operates in the 60GHz band and can deliver multi-gigabit speeds for ultra-high bandwidth applications.