Qualcomm is in the odd position today of announcing a top-end processor that relies heavily on technology from a company that’s pulling its pants down.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 system-on-chip features eight off-the-shelf cores from Arm, which is embroiled in a bitter legal battle with Qualcomm over licenses and contracts.
Qualcomm routinely develops chips with Arm-based technology and will continue to do so, so it is expected to use the Arm architecture in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC. Qualcomm’s chipsets, including the Snapdragon series, are used in a variety of Android phones and tablets, Windows on Arm laptops, and other devices.
What’s extraordinary here is that at its Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii, Qualcomm is telling the world that it’s still a force to be reckoned with in the mobile world, while its relationship with one of its key technology providers – namely Softbank’s Arm – deepens into the breaks goes . Arm provides the application CPU cores that run users’ apps, drivers, and operating systems. Qualcomm is also no stranger to litigation, particularly patent-related.
As we previously reported, Qualcomm bought a startup called Nuvia for $1.4 billion last year. Nuvia designed its own custom server chips using technology and CPU architecture licensed from Arm. When Qualcomm — already an Arm licensee for its Snapdragon series — acquired Nuvia’s Arm-derived designs, apparently with intent to use those blueprints for future data center or personal computing products, Arm sued Qualcomm.
Arm claimed that Qualcomm’s license agreement with Nuvia required it to seek Arm’s permission to transfer the acquired technology. Qualcomm has fired back with various wild claims, most notably that no such permit is required and that Arm is doing this to force Qualcomm to pay a lot more royalties and other fees for using Nuvia’s designs.
Given the time it takes to develop a system-on-chip, it’s unlikely that Nuvia’s designs received from Qualcomm in 2021 would have made it into the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. However, Arm previously urged Qualcomm to destroy its copies of Nuvia blueprints, Qualcomm said, although Arm believes the designs will eventually appear, hence his lawsuit.
So what’s under the hood of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2?
As the name suggests, it’s a sequel to the Gen 1 that was announced around this time last year. This first generation used an eight CPU core cluster, with a single Arm Cortex-X2 high-performance core running up to 3 GHz, three Cortex-A710 “performance” cores peaking at 2.5 GHz and then four Cortex-A510 energy-efficient cores running at 1.8 GHz for background applications and everyday activities. It was manufactured on a 4nm process node from Samsung.
Then there was the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, announced in May this year, with a slightly faster 3.2GHz Cortex-X2, three 2.8GHz A710s and four 2GHz A510s. It also had a slightly faster GPU and used TSMC’s 4nm node instead of Samsung’s node for faster speeds and power efficiency.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is more of the same, showing how closely Qualcomm is tied to Arm and its stock cores: the system-on-chip uses a single Arm Cortex-X3 at 3.2GHz for high-performance requirements, dual Arm Cortex-X3 for mid-range performance A715 cores running at 2.8GHz, two more powerful A710 cores running at 2.8GHz and three efficiency cores, upgraded Cortex-A510s, running at 2GHz. That’s a total of eight cores using a 4nm TSMC processing node with 8MB of L3 cache.
The 64-bit only ARMv9 Cortex-X3 was released by Arm in June along with the 64-bit only A715, which is an evolution of the A710. The updated A510 has the ability to handle 32-bit code, just like the A710 does 32-bit, which is handy for devices that need to maintain that support. So, mainly in terms of computing power, the Gen 2 brings an additional performance core and a less efficient core, as well as an improved Cortex-X series.
What all of this means for people is what appears to be a faster top-end processor for Android phones, tablets, and other mobile devices that are slated to launch in late 2022. Brands expected to use the chip include Asus, Sony, Honor, Xiaomi, ZTE, Oppo, OnePlus and Sharp.
According to Qualcomm, the CPU core cluster “improves performance by up to 35 percent, while the new microarchitecture enables up to 40 percent more energy efficiency” compared to 8 cores and the use of the TSMC node.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 features more than just Arm CPU cores, as Qualcomm needs to add its own technology to differentiate its chipsets from its competitors, which also use Arm intellectual property and architectures. Because of this, the compute core cluster is little more than a bullet point on the spec sheet of the 8th Gen 2nd Gen system-on-chip, allowing Qualcomm to focus on the things it added itself.
That includes an AI acceleration engine that we’re told is up to 4.35 times faster than the previous generation and boasts a 60 percent increase in performance per watt. This unit can be used to speed up on-device machine learning tasks such as B. Object and speech recognition as well as speech translation and transcription. According to Qualcomm, the dual-processor engine can handle INT4 precision for AI models that don’t need much precision but need to get done quickly on battery power.
This AI acceleration extends to the image capture parts of the system-on-chip, enabling the processor and its software stack to identify hair, clothing, backgrounds and such things in footage from a device’s camera and optimize the appearance of those areas Picture. According to the specifications, the SoC supports up to 200 MP image capture and 8K HDR video capture in 10-bit HDR.
The chip houses a Snapdragon X70 5G modem and HF electronics, an evolution of the X65 5G in Gen 1 and 8+ Gen 1. The modem supports a 5G Dual SIM Dual Active Mode (DSDA) for simultaneous use of 5G +5G or 5G+4G SIM cards depending on the specification and covers mmWave and sub-6 GHz. According to Qualcomm, the modem is also equipped with artificial intelligence to improve wireless bandwidth and latency, as well as other performance points.
There’s also Wi-Fi 7 connectivity, which can wirelessly transfer data at up to 5.8 Gbps depending on configuration. Wi-Fi 7 isn’t expected to see meaningful human use until next year to 2024, mind you, since routers and other hardware generally aren’t on the market yet.
Qualcomm also says its chip can offer low-latency (less than 48ms latency) Bluetooth audio streaming for those who notice the lag between what’s on the screen and what’s in your ears . The facial recognition system for unlocking devices has been improved, we’re told, and can tell the difference between a live user and (say) someone holding up a picture of them to gain access.
On the graphics side, the Adreno GPU is said to offer “up to 25 percent faster performance with up to 45 percent better energy efficiency” compared to the previous generation. It also supports Vulkan 1.3 APIs. According to Qualcomm, the support for hardware-accelerated real-time ray tracing makes the chip ideal for gaming on your own mobile device. The chip designer was keen to talk about how well his silicon performs with titles built with the Unreal 5 engine.
The entire chip can handle up to 16GB of LP-DDR5x RAM clocked at up to 4200MHz. Qualcomm declined to share its TDP or battery life predictions. There are many other little things, like improved audio, that are being announced here today.
As we’ve said, Gen 2 is a sequel to Gen 1 and could illustrate why Qualcomm was interested in getting its hands on Nuvia’s blueprints for its own chips to further differentiate its processors from other ARM licensees. Qualcomm has historically developed its own custom and semi-custom arm cores, and lately has been using the off-the-shelf parts. Qualcomm may be happy with Arm’s latest cores, a situation Arm may want to financially exploit. ®
Full Disclosure: Qualcomm paid for this correspondent’s flights and lodging to cover the Snapdragon Summit in Maui, Hawaii today, although as should be apparent from our past, current and future reporting, this will not impact our independent reporting.
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