First Thoughts

Coming into 2018, Qualcomm is facing what we expect to be a busy and certainly competitive year for the company in the smartphone platform space. Iterating on the well-received Snapdragon 835 – and without the benefit of a new manufacturing node – is no easy task. All the while Apple has once again thrown down the gauntlet with their A11 SoC if one wants to argue about top tech, and even in the Android space Qualcomm isn’t the only high-end SoC vendor, as we await to see what Samsung’s Exynos 9810 and its new Exynos M3 CPU cores can achieve.

Still, it’s a challenge that Qualcomm should be prepared for, if not a bit unevenly. With a focus on architecture the company has been hard at work for the Snapdragon 845, and as a result while it’s very much a Qualcomm SoC, it’s also not just a rehash of Snapdragon 835. Both the CPU and GPU are seeing substantial overhauls, not to mention smaller upgrades across the board for everything from the modem to the audio codec. And while Qualcomm rightfully argues that there’s more to a platform than just raw compute performance – that all of these pieces contribute to the overall user experience – they remain vital to device performance and battery life. Which is to say that Qualcomm is innovating where they need to in order to continue improving the heart of many flagship 2018 Android smartphones.

Overall the Snapdragon 845’s system performance is a mixed bag. We had higher expectations from the new CPU changes, but it seems we’ve only gotten incremental improvements. Web workloads seem to be the Snapdragon 845’s forte as that’s where we see the largest improvements. ARM is working on a long awaited overhaul as the Austin team is busy with a brand new microarchitecture which should bring larger generational improvements, but alas only with the next generation of SoCs in 2019.  For many flagship Android phones, 2018 should remain another conservative year and we should not have too high expectations.

But with that said, whatever Qualcomm doesn’t quite bring to the table with their CPU, they more than make up on the GPU side of matters. Qualcomm’s new Adreno 630 GPU easily impresses and widens the gap to the nearest competition. Compared to the Exynos 8895 and Kirin 970 I expect the Snapdragon 845 to have a 3.5-5x PPA advantage when it comes to the GPU. The competition should be worried as it’s no longer feasible to compensate the power efficiency disadvantage with larger GPU configurations and there is need for more radical change to keep up with Qualcomm.

And while we weren’t able to test for system power efficiency improvements for this preview, we weren’t left empty-handed and were able to quickly do a CPU power virus on the QRD845. The results there have turned out promising, with 1W per-core and slightly under 4W for four-core power usage, which are very much in line with the Snapdragon 835. The new system cache and GPU improvements should also noticeably improve SoC – and in turn device – efficiency, so I’m expecting that 2018’s Snapdragon 845 powered devices to showcase excellent battery life.

What remains to be seen then is how this translates into shipping products. Previous Qualcomm device previews have turned out to be rather accurate, but handset manufacturers have countless ways to customize their phones, both for good and for bad. What we can say for now is that it looks like Qualcomm has once again delivered its handset partners a solid SoC from which to build their flagship phones. So we’re eager to see what retail phones can deliver, and ultimately how the Snapdragon 845 fits into the overall market for 2018 Android flagship smartphones.

GPU Performance & Power Estimates
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  • Lodix - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    That they make their own chip. Reply
  • ZolaIII - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    Actually A75 is a bit of a let down. As it's actually refined A73 with tree instructions per clock vs two. I assume that with larger cache, bigger predictor & everything else it's also close of being 50% larger while it's able to achieve only 20~25% performance advantage. Nevertheless if compared to A71 which is similar 3 instructions per clock design advantage is nice 30~35%. Neither is really a server material & you know that pretty good (of all people around hire). We will have to wait & see what Austin will cook up next. Reply
  • ZolaIII - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    One more thing FP VFP & especially NEON got a most significant boost with A75 - A73, that's actually only really architectural improvement on this generation. FP performance is very important as it scales rather good on the SMP while integer doesn't. Still giving MP scaling factor & relative power efficiency/performance the A55's are still much better target for such workloads using 25% power & achieving 85% performance per MHz. Arm's NEON SIMD whose marginally unusable before this gen. as on the previous VFP had 98% of NEON performance while (VFP) being much faster to access so in many real workloads actually faster. ARM boosted NEON performance but in my opinion not even close enough to go in a higher tear. I do agree with you that Integer performance is actually rather very good for small, efficient little OoO core but ARM must do much more on the FP - NEON SIMD if it wants that their cores become more competitive in HPC segment. Actually I see this as a key (FP performance). Hopefully they will produce a next key architectural element of unified SIMD with added multiply, divide subs on it as I see that as the best possible scaling/performance improvement & also as future avoiding of black silicone. Actually regarding large NEON SIMD blocks usage & in the purpose of server scientific HPC workloads the Fujitsu started working on it long time ago (two + years ago). I just wonder what happened with that. Reply
  • iter - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    You are confusing integer and floating point with scalar and vector. SIMD units do vector processing, the vector components can be either integer or floating point. Both are equally useful in HPC, and both get a massive boost from SIMD processing. It is the ALU and the FPU units that do scalar processing, that is one number at a time, of integers and floating point numbers respectively. Those are not used for data crunching, but for managing the program flow, which is beneficial since the lower throughput also means lower latency.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch here. If you want to stay at a lower power target, you have to compromise on the SIMD throughput. There is no way to cheat around that. If ARM chips get SIMD units to match x86 counterparts they will also match their higher power usage.
    Reply
  • ZolaIII - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    Lol both scalar and vector are FP. I ain't confusing anything, you are... SIMD's are rather efficient, more efficient for an order of magnitude compared to the VFP, that's why SIMD arias find their way to pretty much any special purpose or general purpose computing unit's. What I told is a massive united heterogeneous SIMD aria... Now think about it. Reply
  • iter - Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - link

    You are such a dummy. Scalar means "one number", vector means "two or more numbers". The number can be an integer or a floating point number. SIMD instruction sets feature dozens of instructions for processing integer numbers, which are essential to image, video and audio processing, which is all stored using integers.

    In fact, the first SIMD implementation to hit consumer products was intel's MMX, which provided ONLY INTEGER operations.

    As I said - scalar operations involve processing one number of a time, and are executed by the ALU or FP unit for integers and real numbers respectively, vector operations involve processing multiple numbers at once, and is handled by the SIMD units, regardless of whether its integers or reals.
    Reply
  • lmcd - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    Wouldn't get too excited, as A75 was reported to feature a variant of the "Meltdown" bug also affecting Intel CPUs. Performance hit for a patch could be damaging. Reply
  • SirPerro - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    I'm more interested in the mid-range processors to drive devices like the Moto G Plus series

    Right now, an SD845 is extraordinarily excessive for like... 95% of the Android use cases.

    It's like... "OK, that 1080 Ti GPU is really nice, but how good is the 1060 I will actually pay for?"
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    The irony of all this is that software is going to make the difference more than this SoC. You can have the best SoC and put in a shit phone. Reply
  • yeeeeman - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    First of all nice review Andrei, coming from a romanian guy like you.
    Related to SD845, this chip is a nice bump over 835, but I cannot help but wonder if this yearly cadence is really a necessity or just a money grabbing, each year, thing.
    I want to change my Z3 compact, SD801 phone with something new, but I feel like what is best, has yet to come. In 2019 we will have 5G modems, 11ax wifi chips, new uArch from ARM aaand 7nm. This chip is just a intermediate step to have something to sell this year, but in any case, nice work as usual from Qualcomm.
    Reply

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