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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  • vlad42 - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Given the performance of modern arm cores and the efficiency of dav1d, you will probably be fine. At the very least, it should last you until you are ready to upgrade.
  • bernstein - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    so what your saying is that streaming services won't care and just use a software decoder in their apps. (They optimize for lowest bandwidth at lowest royalty cost at highest quality). Ultimately leading to worse battery life on qq SoCs, with qq blaming it on streaming-services and them blaming it qq. In the end it can only hurt qq.
  • linuxgeex - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Yes, there will be native AV1 decoders using intrinsics which will easily decode it in real time. It will use a little bit more battery life. Not a huge amount more, like people fear. ie 8 hours instead of 10 hours.
  • vladx - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Streaming services outside Google's will continue using HEVC which has much wider hardware support.
  • Zoolook - Wednesday, December 8, 2021 - link

    Netflix isn't Google and they stream av1 to certain clients, i.e capable Android and PS4-PS5
  • vladx - Wednesday, December 8, 2021 - link

    Big emphasis on "certain", majority still uses HEVC to stream Netflix content.
  • brucethemoose - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    AFAIK the big streamers will only use hardware decoders at high resolutions. Something to do with DRM and licensing agreements (aka piracy paranoia) IIRC.
  • ksec - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    Additional Hardware complexity and die size. I dont believe Qualcomm is *against* AV1 so to speak. But it make much more sense that both VVC and AV1 decoder block are working together. So my guess is that they will get an AV1 decoder in their next update along with VVC.

    It is worth noting VVC decoding was suppose to be a target for 2021 flagship, so not having them may suggest their whole video engine block IP were behind schedule. ( Or due to other issues ).
  • GreenReaper - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.

    But this works out, people who care (content licensers) can pay, those who don't care can use AV1+.
  • O-o-o-O - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    AV1 might NOT be royalty free as in this article.

    If so, it’s understandable that chip makers not building AV1 encoder/decoder at this time. May as well put VVC.

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