Today, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC, the company’s flagship chip that will be coming to many Android phones in the coming months. Along with the usual newer, better, and hopefully faster cores, Wi-Fi 7 support is big news for giving you a better wireless home – assuming you invest in a new router.
Qualcomm has some claims on this new chip. The company says the CPU “improves performance by up to 35 percent” and has “up to 40 percent more energy efficiency.” The GPU is said to deliver “up to 25 percent faster performance with up to 45 percent better energy efficiency”. Take both of these claims with a grain of salt, as last year Qualcomm promised a 20 percent CPU improvement that never manifested itself in product shipping. Even if Qualcomm delivers on those performance promises, it would still be around a year behind the iPhone. The company is trying to do something about its uncompetitive performance with its (now legally burdened) Nuvia acquisition, but those chips aren’t ready yet.
Let’s start with the basics. This is a 4nm chip with an unusual layout containing four different CPU cores, all designed by Arm. The main core is a 3.2GHz Arm Cortex-X3 – that’s all good and expected, and from here Arm’s recommended layout is three Cortex-A710 CPUs for “medium” loads and four A510 CPUs for Background processing with low power consumption. However, Qualcomm doesn’t follow the recommended layout and after the Cortex X3 has two different cores that handle “medium” tasks: a pair of Cortex-A715 CPUs and a pair of last-gen Cortex-A710 CPUs. After that, there are only three – not the expected four – Cortex A510 CPUs working in the background.
The reason Qualcomm threw a pair of A710s into the mix is probably because of 32-bit support. Arm’s recommended core layout for this new generation consists of a set of 64-bit-only chips, which means it can’t run 32-bit apps. This isn’t a problem for most people around the world – the Pixel 7 already shipped as the world’s first Android phone that couldn’t run 32-bit apps (the entire operating system isn’t quite 64-bit yet). The Google Play Store has required 64-bit binaries since 2019, and today you would never notice that lack of 32-bit support. China doesn’t have a Google Play Store, though, and the free-for-all over there means 32-bit support wasn’t given up anytime soon. It’s also not clear if Google is ready for full 64-bit support, ostensibly with the Pixel 7 shipping yet with some 32-bit libraries. Mixing and matching with older cores allows Qualcomm to maintain 32-bit support for another year.
Qualcomm is promising a top Wi-Fi speed of 5.8 Gbps with new Wi-Fi 7 support, but the big upside is even more spectrum to share with your neighbors. When you’re in a crowded apartment building with many access points, it’s easy for airways to become congested and everyone’s Wi-Fi to go bad. Just like Wi-Fi 6e, Wi-Fi 7 adds an extra block of spectrum for your devices to choose from, which helps in crowded rooms. The problem is that you need a Wi-Fi 7 access point to see these benefits and there aren’t many options currently. TP Link recently promised devices for Q1 2023.
Qualcomm has already been beaten with hardware ray tracing support from Samsung (with help from AMD) and Arms Immortalis GPU, but now the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 can also produce fancy lighting effects. I don’t think there are any serious mobile software applications for ray tracing anymore.
This is the first Snapdragon chip to offer support for AV1, a royalty-free video codec supported by a huge list of heavyweights including Amazon, Apple, Arm, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Nvidia, and Samsung becomes . Netflix and YouTube have gone all-in on AV1 by making codec support mandatory for hardware manufacturers looking to license those services.
We see this as the SoC for most flagship smartphones by 2023, but Qualcomm says some partners will actually be releasing devices before the end of the year.
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