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 - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link

    > HEVC is the winner in terms of adoption as hardware support beats claims made companies.

    Talk about an unfair comparison! HEVC was standardized long before AV1 was a thing!
  • name99 - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    That's an exceptionally naive analysis.
    Most of the member of AOM have zero interest in ACTUALLY supporting yet another codec. AV1 (and AV2) exist purely to ensure that the REAL codecs (VVC, and EVC as the royalty-free version) come with reasonable terms so no-one (*cough* MPEG LA *cough*) tries to pull some shit, like kinda-sorta happened with h.264 in the early days of streaming.
  • Zoolook - Wednesday, December 8, 2021 - link

    Qualcomm is one of the companies behind HEVC, they get license money for every hevc enabled part that sells, why would they support the competition?
    They won't unless they really have to, and so far they don't.
  • name99 - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    Of course VVC use is non-existent. It was finalized in 2020 (as opposed to AV1 in 2018).

    Apple had their first h.265 decoder in iPhones a year after 265 was finalized BUT this was not really publicized until a year later, so that when Apple talked about h.265 as their new preferred codec, they could point to a large pre-existing HW base.
    Chances are they will follow the same strategy for 266, suggesting that A15 may already have a decoder as part of the media block, but h.266 will not be discussed as part of Apple's preferred codecs until at least next year.

    I *think* Mediatek have a decoder, so it may be present on their chipsets. But all these things take time...
  • name99 - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    AOM and AV1 have done their job.
    - licensing around future codecs will be more sane, without any backsliding
    - EVC is essentially equivalent to AV1 in performance and cpu cost, but is an ITU/ISO standard AND is royalty-free

    There's just no job left for AV1 to do except persist as a *possibility* if someone owning a patent that's part of VVC behaves stupidly.
  • mode_13h - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link

    > AOM and AV1 have done their job.

    That seems premature. For it to be a credible threat, AV1 needs hardware support. Otherwise, if there's a situation with lots of VVC hardware and no AV1 hardware, then the VVC patent holders might feel they have the leverage to force stricter licensing terms.
  • vladx - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    HEVC us used by Netflix, Amazon Prime and pretty much everything outside Google's ecosystem. Just because they recently adopted AV1, doesn't mean Netflix has dropped HEVC which has much wider hardware support.
  • GeoffreyA - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    vladx, HEVC may be more widespread, but was a lacklustre codec in many ways. Arguably, it never reached the excellence of its predecessor. AV1 is noticeably better than HEVC, and is in the same class, but slightly behind, VVC.
  • vladx - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    What do you mean? It has 50% better compression than H.264 and it's even more efficient than AV1 in terms of bandwidth usage as comparable quality settings, AV1 is only better space-wise which is less important since more space is cheaper to buy than more bandwidth. Only Google decided to cheapen out on paying royalties because of their NIH syndrome but that doesn't make HEVC lackluster as a codec in any way whatsoever.
  • vladx - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    And when I ssay that HEVC is more efficient bandwidth-wise than AV1, I'm referring of course to resolutions of 4K and above.. AV1 is better at 1080p and below but those resolutions are not really a concern in terms of bandwidth consumption.

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