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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  • ChrisGX - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    For the record, MediaTek Dimensity 1200 and Google Tensor have AV1 decode now and we know that the MediaTek Dimensity 9000 and Kompanio 1200 and 1300T will support AV1 decode in 2022. The list of processors supporting AV1 decode will probably grow longer before the end of 2022. The Dimensity 9000, unlike the others, will support 8K playback (in addition to 4K).
  • SydneyBlue120d - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Is Dolby Vision encoding supported?
    I think it is only decoding.
    No AV1 support is just unqualifiable.
  • scarp - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Lack of AV1 decoder is a deal breaker for me. So unimpressed.
  • Nicon0s - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    So buy an iphone, oh wait...
  • 69369369 - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Yawn. Nuvia cores or bust.
  • tkSteveFOX - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Big doubt about the numbers Nuvia showed and Qualcomm actually going full custom cores. Definitely not before 2023, if ever.
  • Kangal - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    Nuvia cores seem impressive.
    Whilst ARM cores are still struggling to catch up to the Apple A13, Nuvia cores are better than the latest Apple A15 cores. The caveat being that we will never buy those Nuvia cores on a phone.

    Qualcomm is going all-in by using Nuvia's cores in an Apple M1 type of configuration. So we will see some Windows 11s/Pro tablets and laptops releasing with it in the next 6-12 months.

    We might even get an Nvidia Shield TV competitor, just a Mini Box similar to the Mac Mini but running the Apple M1 equivalent Nuvia-Snapdragon. Possible but I doubt it.
  • michael2k - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    But there are no Nuvia cores. They aren’t supposed to be out until 2023, which would align with Cortex X3 and X4 designs, as well as M2 or M3 parts.
  • Kangal - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    Yeah, you're right.
    I thought we were getting some Qualcomm-Nuvia chips in like June 2022. I didn't see that they pushed it back to 2023. Right now, they're releasing the Snapdragon 8cx Gen3.

    By the time the Q-Nuvia chip releases, we should have the Cortex-X3 processor which is going to be a major design overhaul. So it's likely it will catch up to the Q-Nuvia projected performance anyways... and on top, it would be ARMv9 based whilst the Nuvia was designed per ARMv8 protocol.

    Even more troubling we will see the Apple A16 and then A17 at that period. Both expected to raise the performance envelope, so they'll be somewhat competing from that end. Also there's the Apple M2, Pro, Max chipsets that are likely to be released around the same time... and they would likely destroy the Q-Nuvia devices in efficiency and performance and software support.
  • mode_13h - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link

    > we should have the Cortex-X3 processor which is going to be a major design overhaul.

    According to whom? Or, are you saying that because there's an overhaul expected in the A710-successor, which is the likely basis for the X3?

    > So it's likely it will catch up to the Q-Nuvia projected performance anyways...

    That's like saying X3 will beat Apple, which I think is a stretch.

    > the Nuvia was designed per ARMv8 protocol.

    How do you know? And ARMv9 isn't so different than later ARMv8. If they weren't very far along when they learned of v9, they could've conceivably re-targeted.

    > the Apple ... released around the same time... ... would likely destroy
    > the Q-Nuvia devices in ... software support.

    Granted, Qualcomm's laptop ambitions are largely dependent on the success of Windows-on-ARM. That aside, I don't see you point about software support. Apple exists in its own world. Of course their software support will be strong. I just don't really see what that has to do with Qualcomm.

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