Qualcomm Announces Snapdragon 8 Gen 1: Flagship SoC for 2022 Devicesby Andrei Frumusanu on November 30, 2021 6:00 PM EST
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.
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vlad42 - Friday, December 3, 2021 - linkvladx was complaining about the lack of ANY hardware encoder support, which is blatantly false. He did not quantify it as consumer encoders.
It is also important to note that consumer hardware encoders are of little value until the major players (twitch, YouTube, etc.) are ready to start supporting AV1 in a manner in which client side encoding is actually needed. For YouTube, Facebook, etc., those companies already re-encode videos uploaded to them so they can just change the encode target on their end to be AV1 – they can even use the hardware encoders I listed above! AV1 hardware decode support has been around for a few years already and the software decode performs well on most laptop and desktops.
There are already software encoders that are reasonably fast on desktops & laptops, so the hardware encoders are really needed for things like cellphones and live streaming/real time encoding. Cellphone videos typically end up stored in the cloud where space does not matter to the consumer or posted to social media, where as I mentioned above the company will re-encode the video anyway. For live streaming, twitch announced years ago that they would start to offer AV1 in 2022 (and twitch is the most aggressive that I have seen). So, as long as hardware encoders show up next year or software encoders' performance improves enough/CPUs improve enough, then everything is on track.
As for adoption of HEVC, Apple was very early with support but only for FaceTime (there is no indication if it was hardware encoded on your link but let us assume it is for the sake of argument). Nvidia was also early. If there were others, then I missed them as the link is filled with announcements on codec support and software encoders/decoders. However, considering MacBooks still have 720p webcams, I doubt iPhones and iPads are encoding at a resolution higher than 720p. At these resolutions AV1 and VVC would bring minimal if any bitrate efficiency improvements at reasonable image quality. This same problem of low resolution video conferencing exists for Zoom, Teams, Skype, etc. on other platforms. As for Nvidia, they probably realized that HEVC encoding on Maxwell went largely unused for a long time due to the lack of adoption by the live streaming/video calling services (and anyone who wanted a high quality encode used software not hardware).
The point is, there has been little motivation to rush the adopt of either AV1 or VVC encoding support on cellphone chips or GPUs due to the lack of a non-niche usage case. I think vendors have simply prioritized the die area that would have gone to hardware encoding support to the other parts of the SOC such as the X1/X2/P-Cores, NPUs, image processors, and GPUs as they would proved a more tangible benefit to end users.
vladx - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link> vladx was complaining about the lack of ANY hardware encoder support, which is blatantly false. He did not quantify it as consumer encoders.
Umm stop putting words into 'my mouth". Let me quote myself:
"At this rate, consumer hardware supporting encode will be released for VVC before AV1 let alone AV2."
I specifically mentioned "consumer hardware" on which I believe VVC encoding will be supported before AV1, not "ANY hardware encoder support" as you claimed.
BlueSwordM - Friday, December 3, 2021 - linkNah, you're the one who's wrong here.
There's already a ton of HW that has HW AV1 decode support: Samsung SOCs, Mediatek SOCs, Amlogic, etc.
Almost all 2020+ TVs now include an AV1 HW decode, etc.
vladx - Friday, December 3, 2021 - linkCompared to HEVC hardware decode which is supported by all consumer hardware from 2016 and onwards, AV1 support doesn't even come close right now.
Zoolook - Wednesday, December 8, 2021 - linkNetflix started streaming in AV1 two weeks ago.
vladx - Wednesday, December 8, 2021 - linkSure, but that doesn't they dropped HEVC as well.
eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - linkThanks for the information! Any idea why QC doesn't like AV1? It's free to use/implement AFAIK, so license fees can't be the reason.
tuxRoller - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - linkThey want to reap the licensing fees from vvc, and ignoring av1 means people will rely less on av1, they might say.
The decode issue isn't much of one given the speed of modern cores & dav1d's efficiency, but we're well past the point where the market is begging for more efficient codecs to satisfy our ultrahd hdr habits. That's not even mentioning the continued jpeg dominance.
Adonisds - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - linkWhy would they get money from VVC? Shouldn't they have to pay to use it instead?
ikjadoon - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - linkQualcomm's IP is the #1 whole contributor to VVC by a sizeable margin (~12% of VVC's contributions are Qualcomm's, more than any other single vendor).
As a reminder, Qualcomm's earnings pre-tax as of fiscal Q3 2021:
$1.795 billion from all its hardware (28% margin)
$1.053 billion from its IP patents / licensing (71% margin)
Qualcomm always seems to forget to mention their lopsided incentives during the yearly Summits, but it's frequently lurking behind most of their "unexplainable" decisions: reduce SoC hardware costs, increase licensing opportunities.