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 1, 2021 - link

    > Sure, you can have fun with HDR stacking to average out noise...but 8-bits worth?

    They take each image with different exposure values and weight/threshold them when stacking.
  • casteve - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Great, maybe they can clean up the least bits on the 12-bit ADC and have a couple more wiggle for posterity. 18-bits...doubtful.
  • Kamen Rider Blade - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    But how many years of OS / Security support will the device that houses these SoC's have?
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Hey, at least it's ARMv9. That'll at least have more potential for long-term support than ARMv8 devices.
  • Kangal - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    You're right about that.
    But I actually think performance is going to regress next year. ARM's projection has always been optimistic, and this time it was lower than expected, and they based it on better node with more cache.

    This is going to be a QSD 801/805 vs QSD 808/810 fiasco again. Especially due to Qualcomm pushing the voltage to the throttling limits.

    The Gen2/2023 will probably use much more advanced and efficient ARM cores. And the node will probably mature then, to bring Samsung/TSMC close to each other. I also think by then, the Android software will get a bit more optimised.

    These small advances will come together, like in 2016, when Android 6 and QSD 821 phones were running circles around Android 5 and QSD 810 phones. Example, ZTE Axon 7 versus HTC One M9.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    I'm excited to see the successor to the positively neanderthal (at this point) A55 cores. Hopefully the A510 brings some much needed updates to low power and we can move more daily tasks to the smaller cores. The A710 and X2 will hopefully solve the massive power drain issues the 888 had.
  • Nicon0s - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    "The A710 and X2 will hopefully solve the massive power drain issues the 888 had."

    SD 888's heat problems were because of the GPU not the CPU. I don't think the CPU was any less efficient than the one in the SD 865.
  • iphonebestgamephone - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    Check the spec scores on anandtech, it was indeed less efficient, both the x1 and the a78 cores.
  • Kangal - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    That's not true.
    It throttles hard doing CPU-intensive tasks. I found the GPU fairly efficient tbh. Overall, the QSD 865 was inefficient and a let down due to throttling, and Qualcomm merely doubled-down on that for the QSD 888+

    The QSD 870 is decent. The best news this year was actually the QSD 778/780 chipsets, which offered performance rivalling the flagships at a fraction of the cost to the OEMs and Consumers.
  • Fulljack - Sunday, December 12, 2021 - link

    how is SD870 decent yet SD865 are "inefficient and let down" when both are the exact same chip just binned differently?

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