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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  • Kangal - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link

    The Cortex-X1 isn't really a performance core from the ground up, it's a "medium core" that's been tweaked/beefed up, so of course it will have disadvantages to something else, like Apple's Firestorm or Nuvia's cores.

    The Cortex-X2 design is mostly recycled from the Cortex-X1/Cortex-A78 (and Cortex-A710). And if you really look at it, it's all part of the same Cortex-A76 family. This is ARM's first attempt to get the ARMv9 protocol out there, that aspect alone takes resources away from development. Their performance and efficiency projections for next year have been a let down. That's the context you need to remember.

    The Cortex-X3 is supposed to be designed by ARM's European team, and they have a stronger track record than their US Team. So I expect good things. On top of that, they're supposed to start on a new platform; eg Cortex-A730. I believe the difference will be a kin to the Cortex-A57 versus Cortex-A72. So it will be worth waiting for.

    With that said, Apple's A15 isn't too far from their A14 and A13 processors. Whilst the X1 and X2 failed to catch up to the Apple A13... I do think the X3 will catch up and potentially surpass it. With the point being that Apple has the new lead with the Apple A16.

    The Nuvia cores have been in development for some time. Obviously it's built with ARMv8 in mind. And they do have silicon pressed and sampled already, ie Working Prototypes. And based on the information we know, their Nuvia Cores are better than the Apple A15 in the labs. But now they will have to go back, tweak it, and covert to ARMv9. Again that will take time of the development, and potentially less optimised design in the interim.

    Software Support is the part which Apple wins. It's all-round better. Not only can they support it longer, but businesses and developers trust that ecosystem, which means it will get priority for development and for optimisation. The other point is that Apple's software is very advanced: Swift and Metal are actually pretty awesome, and their SDK is the Gold Standard in the industry. Sure you have certain limitations, but within the boundary the software and hardware meld much closer. It's the result of throwing billions of dollars, thousands of in-house developers, and years of experience.

    A Qualcomm-Nuvia product has no answer for that. If they try AndroidOS, they will have lots of compromises. Whilst Microsoft is usually better, lately they've done a poor job with W-ART, Windows-on-ARM, and Windows 11. So I don't expect a Q-Nuvia laptop doing as well, so they will lose some performance and efficiency there again to the likes of Apple's iPad/Macbook.
  • tkSteveFOX - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    It's clear ARM designs have hit a brick wall. The improvements in architecture just aren't enough when compared to Apple's. While Android phones have more mature ISP and modems, Job's lot silicon is at least a generation if not two ahead in performance and efficiency.
    Android phones now regularly costing more or as much as iphones means you as a customer are more likely to choose Apple in the longer run.
  • Wilco1 - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    A 20% yearly improvement is hardly a brick wall. While the L2/L3 caches are still on the small side (especially when compared to Dimensity 9000), this should narrow the gap. You're not going to notice the difference though. Most phones use far older and slower cores (Samsung just announced a phone with 1.2/1.6GHz Cortex-A55!!!), and there a 10-20% difference will be very noticeable. But at the high-end? Absolutely not.

    As for efficiency, my S21 Ultra has the same battery life as iPhone 13 Pro according to AnandTech. And I paid far less for it. As a consumer that matters to me more than whether or not the iPhone is faster on SPEC or Geekbench.
  • high3r - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Wow, 3095 mAh vs 5000 mAh. That's something then. :)
  • Wilco1 - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Design capacity of S21 Ultra is 4855 mAh, estimated capacity around 4700 mAh according to Accubattery. It lasts 4 to 5 days on a full charge which is exceptionally good.

    iPhones use a huge SoC with lots of cache on the most advanced process which allows for a smaller battery, while Android phones use a much smaller SoC on a less advanced process and a larger battery instead.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    It will be something in 2 years when the samsung can still go for more then 4 hours without keeling over. The iphone, OTOH......
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    > While the L2/L3 caches are still on the small side (especially when compared to Dimensity 9000)

    Isn't the 9000 aimed primarily or exclusively at laptops? Why compare it to a phone SoC, then? Phones have smaller batteries and worse cooling.
  • Wilco1 - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Eh what?!? This clearly states smartphone repeatedly - in huge letters, so impossible to miss...

    For laptops there is Cortex-A78C and Cortex-X1C.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Okay, my bad. I thought I remembered something about it being a Chromebook SoC.
  • name99 - Monday, December 6, 2021 - link

    You'd think so ("you won't notice the difference") but you do.

    I'm happy with my iPhone XS (A12) but when I used a friend's iPhone 13 Pro (A15) the extra speed was noticeable. I couldn't say WHERE the difference lies; my phone never stutters or glitches in animation and apps launch basically instantly. But even so you can feel that the iPhone13 Pro is faster, and not just subtly so.
    Maybe it's in the 120Hz? But even so, you need a SoC that can keep that 120Hz fed while never glitching...

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