Conclusion & First Impressions

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is an interesting part, as it represents a fresh start for the series both in a marketing sense, and in a lesser technical sense as well. As a successor to the Snapdragon 888, the new chip  completely revamps the CPU setup to new Armv9 architectures while also bringing a very large GPU improvement, massive new camera features, and a host of other new features.

Qualcomm’s decision to streamline the naming is in my opinion not that necessary. But after the transition from the Snapdragon 865 to the 888, things had arguably already kind of jumped the shark last year, so it’s not completely unexpected. What I really don't like is Qualcomm taking a note out of Apple’s PR strategies and really diminishing the amount of technical detail disclosed, dropping even things such as the IP block generational numbering on the part of the GPU, NPU/DSP or ISP. This kind of opaqueness works for a lifestyle product company, but isn’t a great marketing strategy or look for a technology company that is supposed to pride itself on the tech it develops. Whatever the marketing aspect and shift from Qualcomm, what does matter for most of our readers is the technical side of things.

Technically, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is a larger upgrade in a lot of aspects. While Qualcomm isn’t quite as aggressive as what we saw from recent competitor announcements, the chip boasts a very strong showing on the part of the CPU configuration, featuring a new Cortex-X2 core at up to 3GHz, new Cortex-A710’s middle cores at 2.5GHz, and as well as the new A510 little cores. The performance metrics, at least on the part of the X2, look to be extremely solid, and while power efficiency is still something we’ll have to investigate in more detail in the next few weeks, is also seemingly in line, or better, than the expectations.

The new Adreno GPU really didn’t get the attention it deserved, in my opinion, as things are quite more complex than just what the presentations showcased. While we still don’t expect Qualcomm to be able to catch up with Apple or be as efficient as the upcoming MediaTek part due to lingering concerns on whether the Samsung 4nm process node is able to close the gap with the TSMC competition, the new architecture changes are significant, and we should see major improvements in performance and efficiency compared to the Snapdragon 888.

Finally, the biggest changes this generation were presented on the part of the camera and ISP system. Smartphone cameras over the last few years have seen tremendous progress in terms of capability and image quality, and rather than slowing down (in contrast to other aspects of a SoC), here it seems technology progress is still full steam ahead or even accelerating. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 ISP now features fixed function blocks for a lot of the typical “computational photography” techniques we’ve seen pioneered from the last few years, and I think this will enable for far greater camera implementations for many more vendors in 2022 flagship devices. So, while the rest of the SoC can be seen as a % gain in performance or efficiency, the new camera features are expected to really bring new innovation and experiences.

Overall, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 looks to be a very solid successor to the Snapdragon 888. And that’s what’s most important for Qualcomm: executing on developing and delivering a chip that the vast majority of vendors can rely on to implement into their devices. While the competition is diversifying and stepping up their game, it’s also going to be extremely hard to match or even surpass Qualcomm’s execution the market, and the 8 Gen 1 is unlikely to disappoint.

Massive ISP Upgrades, AI Uplifts
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  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 8, 2021 - link

    > How do you think prioritization is IMPLEMENTED at the point that it hits that hardware?

    The OS scheduler? Well, when a context switch occurs due to a timeslice ending, a thread blocking on I/O or blocking on a synchronization object, the OS decides which (if any) thread should next run on that core.

    > Any particular NoC routing point, or the memory controller,
    > or any other shared resources has to decide who gets access in what order.

    If you can put a FIFO there, that works for anything not time-critical. If you need QoS, then priority queues are a simple way to implement it. When a FIFO isn't appropriate, you need an arbiter which probably looks at priority tags to see who wins, and might use round-robin as a tie-breaker.

    > OS scheduling doesn't help here!

    I didn't say it did. What I said was that your animations should be light-weight. If they are, then their compute & bandwidth requirements should be easily satisfied by getting a fair allocation (e.g. round-robin) of said resources.

    > If you want the hardware to make better choices

    Yeah, I get all of that. Again, I was just talking about UI animations. You shouldn't need system-wide QoS tagging of all your bus & memory transactions, just to get some light-weight animations to run smoothly. For the hard-realtime stuff, especially with more stringent compute or bandwidth demands, that's a different story.

    > - massive overprovision of HW

    And this is effectively what we're talking about, with light-weight UI animations.
  • egiee - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - link

    Maybe it is the first time that Mediateck can beat Qualcomm in high-end Socs next year.
  • Xedius - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - link

    I know this is off-topic, but should I buy the new Moto G200 with the SD 888+ at $480 or wait for the new SD 8 Gen 1 devices? I'm quite fed up with the Exynos 9810 from my Note 9.
  • egiee - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - link

    you may wait for SM8450 next year
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - link

    At that price, the Moto sounds like good value, if it checks all the important boxes for you. The alternative is to wait for 2022, possibly until Q2 with the ongoing supply mess, and pay at least twice what that G200 apparently goes for now.
  • Kangal - Sunday, December 5, 2021 - link

    There's a big difference in performance and efficiency going from 10nm/A75 to the 7nm/A76. But after that, there's a negligible improvement from the QSD 855 to the 855+/860/865/865+/870/888/888+. And there seems to be a performance regression with next year's QSD 8-gen1.

    So any upgrade is going to feel big, wether it's with next year's chips or ones from a few years ago.

    My recommendation is that you instead get the Samsung Galaxy A52-S. It's got 5G, OLED, 120Hz, and the new QSD 778 chip that is equal to the QSD 860 (ergo same as all the other chips).

    You'll get a proper flagship phone in the A52-S, without any big compromises like Waterproofing, Headphone Jack, microSD, or software updates (3 years from Samsung).

    By the time that gets old, we will get proper ARMv9 chips and devices. This first gen is not impressive at all.
  • geoxile - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - link

    Pathetic cache configuration.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Cache uses both area and power. So, increasing cache costs more $ and battery life. The only time that's not true is where cache saves you having to go out to DRAM, although there's going to be a crossover point where adding cache costs more power than the DRAM accesses it saves.
  • michael2k - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Well, given how small the cache is at 4MB, and how large the DRAM is at 12GB to 16GB, and how much the CPU and GPU both use the cache, I don't see how it's ever going to avoid pulling from DRAM.

    But if your app + OS can live in 4MB instead of 5MB, you'll definitely see better battery life.
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - link

    I know this is probably the least interesting part of this new SoC for many, but I would love to try out the 720p at 960 fps "infinite recording" capability.
    Being able to do that let's one catch that wanted sequence of frames without worrying about starting too late or running out of the few seconds of buffer. Andrei, when you review a smartphone with one of those, can you try and play with that feature and let us know?

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