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 - Monday, December 13, 2021 - link

    I don't know exactly why, but the QSD 870 doesn't throttle like the QSD 865.
    I know they're the "same" chip. But its probably a combination of newer node, better binning, and software tweaks. Mostly the software side, where it's not just the better optimised drivers but likely it is deliberately set up by Qualcomm to not be thermally aggressive. They would have done this so that it doesn't outshine their most expensive product (888).

    In terms of unrealistic synthetic benchmarks, the QSD 888+ leaves the rest in the dust.
    In real-world uses, it's on-par with the chips mentioned above*. Actually, it's quiet often slower when it throttles early and for extended periods, and running on OEMs sloppy bloatware. There's really no legitimate reason for someone to upgrade from the 2019 Android phone to a 2021 if we're only concerned about the SoC. And I believe the same is true for 2022 Android phones (first-gen ARMv9). With the exception being that there has been decent improvement in the GPU, but there isn't much to take advantage of that extra performance on Android (maybe with emulators?).

    *QSD 855, 855+, 778G, 780, 860, 865, 865+, 870, 888, 888+
  • mode_13h - Monday, December 13, 2021 - link

    > There's really no legitimate reason for someone to upgrade
    > from the 2019 Android phone to ... 2022 Android phones (first-gen ARMv9).

    If we don't consider these as phones, but compare the cores on their merits, then you can't ignore SVE2. How much practical benefit that has for the typical phone user remains to be seen, because things like deep learning and many other compute-heavy workloads will be running on the NPU, DSP, ISP, or GPU.
  • Zoolook - Wednesday, December 8, 2021 - link

    Don't forget it's produced on a hot process, Samsung is far behind TSMC on efficiency.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Based on their initial coverage, the A510 looks relatively disappointing.
  • johnnycanadian - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Let's please hope that phone manufacturers disable the always-on camera?
  • fasterquieter - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    I have often wondered, if chips like these can perform crazy feats like 8K30 HDR encoding, why don't camera manufacturers just buy these instead of making their own chips?
  • vladx - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Outside of Panasonic, I'm not sure anyone else in the camera industry is designing its 100% proprietary chips. And the reason they don't buy this type of SoC is price and the need for custom solutions incorporating their IPs.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Don't professional cameras typically use some Studio Profile with like 4:4:4 color and maybe no P or B frames? Although you could probably get all that to work on most phone SoC media engines, it probably wasn't implemented by the manufacturer.
  • GeoffreyA - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    Andrei, we appreciate all your material and will miss you. I was always stunned by your terrific, detailed articles, and your mastery over this field. We shake our fists angrily at the company that won you over. All the best in your future endeavours. Take it easy.
  • Speedfriend - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link

    I have to second that, I will miss the deep dive articles into new SOCs. Yours were the only ones that truly looked at the power performance trade off

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