Closing Thoughts

Wrapping things up, after Qualcomm’s experiences with the Snapdragon 810 (and to a lesser extent the 808), the company has a lot to do if they wish to recapture their grip on the high-end SoC market, and less time than they’d like to do it. What has happened with the 810 is now in the past, but to recover Qualcomm needs to show they can correct their mistakes and produce a new generation of chips as well designed as the 800/801. And they need to do so at a particularly sensitive time when customer/competitor/supplier Samsung has fully ramped up their own SoC CPU design team, which presents yet more of a challenge to Qualcomm.

As is always the case with these MDP previews, it’s critical to note that we’re looking at an early device with unoptimized software. And at the same time that we’re looking at a device and scenario where Qualcomm is looking to show off their new SoC in the best light possible. Which is to say that between now and retail devices there’s room for performance to grow and performance to shrink depending on what happens with software, thermal management, and more. However at least in the case of the Snapdragon 820 MDP/S preview, I am hopeful that our experiences here will more closely mirror retail devices since we’re looking at a phablet form factor device and not a full-size tablet has was the case in the past couple of generations.

To that end, then, Snapdragon 820 looks like Qualcomm has regained their orientation. Performance is improved over 810 – usually greatly so – at both the CPU and GPU level. And for what it’s worth, while we don’t have extensive temperature/clockspeed logs from the MDP/S, at no point did the device get hot to the touch or leave us with the impression that it was heavily throttling to avoid getting hot to the touch. Power consumption and especially efficiency (Performance/W) is clearly going to be important consideration on 820 after everyone’s experiences with 810, and while we’ll have to see what the retail devices are like, after what Samsung was able to do in their own transition from 20nm to 14nm FinFET, I feel it bodes well for Qualcomm as well.

Meanwhile more broadly speaking, our initial data doesn’t paint Snapdragon 820 as the SoC that is going to dethrone Apple’s commanding lead in ARM CPU performance. Even if retail devices improve performance, Apple A9/Twister’s performance lead in CPU-bound scenarios is extensive (particularly in lightly-threaded scenarios), more so than I’d expect any kind of software refinements to close. What seems to be rather concerning is the performance of existing software that isn't yet optimized for the new architecture, well have to see how targeted compilers for Kryo will be able to improve scores in that regard. The Adreno 530 on the other hand looks to to perform very well for a smartphone SoC, besting Apple's latest, and I think there’s a good chance for retail devices to hold their edge here.

Otherwise within the Android SoC space, the big wildcards right now are ARM’s Cortex-A72 and Samsung’s forthcoming M1 CPU. Initial performance estimates of the A72 don't put it very far from Kryo, and given that we'll be seeing some very high clocked SoCs such as the Kirin 950 at 2.3GHz or MediaTek's X20 at 2.5GHz, Qualcomm will seem to have some competition in terms of CPU performance. With the former ARM is striving for performance gains rather similar to what we’ve seen with Snapdragon 820, and Samsung's CPU is still a complete mystery at the moment. Even with their significant gains over the Snapdragon 810, if Kryo is to beat A72 and M1, then I don’t expect it will be an easy win for Qualcomm.

GPU Performance
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  • lilmoe - Friday, December 11, 2015 - link

    He's not talking about clock speeds. He's talking about the whole package. Samsung has lots more experience with big.LITTLE and their implementations are far superior than competing chips on the SAME process node. Both the Exynos 5433 and the Snapdragon 808 are built on 20nm, yet the Exynos performs AND sustains its performance better than the Snapdragon.
  • testbug00 - Sunday, December 13, 2015 - link

    yes, Qualcomm's memory controller was busted. Doesn't make the A57 core any better.

    It's a pretty bad core compared to just about everything else ARM offers currently. A7, A9, A12/17, A53, A72. All far superior to the A57 overall.
  • tipoo - Thursday, December 10, 2015 - link

    On Samsungs 14nm process, yeah they ran ok. But it effectively cancelled out a generation's worth of fabrication process advantage, just to be able to run the things without throttle hell.
  • melgross - Thursday, December 10, 2015 - link

    This should be interesting. Phones delivering this chip will be seen, mostly, during the April-May period. That leaves them about 4 months, on average, before the iPhone 7 with the new A10 comes out. With this behind the A9 in many areas, that doesn't give them much leeway in performance or time.

    So most of the year leaves Apple's chips basically unchallenged. It seems to me that shipping schedules for flagship Android phones needs to shift, along with the release of high end SoCs to more closely match Apple's release dates, or there will always be this disparity.

    While it's often said that Android phone manufacturers are competing against one another more than they are competing against Apple, that's only true because they have a hard time competing against Apple at the higher end. Having phones that better compete in performance on the same release schedule would help somewhat.

    This chip really needed to come out last August, not next spring.
  • Refuge - Friday, December 11, 2015 - link

    I disagree, they have no problem competing with Apple at the high end. They won me easily.

    The A9 is a nice chip, but running iOS its like having Camaro SS with a limiter set at 75mph.

    I'm sorry, I just can't and won't consider the two eco-systems in any way similar. People buy the OS first and the device second. Like iphone, but want an android OS? Someone has an iPhone clone out right now just for you.
  • mdriftmeyer - Friday, December 11, 2015 - link

    Wow. The voice of one dot speaking against reality. Apple's SoC designs and implementations are only expanding their leads on the competition. That ecosystem they also dominate in is building ever greater loyalty: they deliver and the software matches the hardware.

    Move along and hope for the future.
  • mdriftmeyer - Friday, December 11, 2015 - link

    Above comment should have embedded below Refuge.
  • bug77 - Thursday, December 10, 2015 - link

    Nice preview, but, as it happens lately, what matters more is sustained performance, not some burst numbers during a single benchmark run.
  • jjj - Thursday, December 10, 2015 - link

    Interesting that they seem to be going with a small cache and the memory score is rather nuts for just 2x32bit.

    "And though one could have a spirited argument about whether single-threaded or multi-threaded performance is more important, I’m firmly on the side of ST for most use cases."
    Do note that SD820 has 2 cores clocked lower, it's not just 4 vs 8, it's 4+4 vs 2+2. Everybody in the dumb press will be tempeted to forget that 2 cores are clocked lower here .
    As for ST perf , the thing is that at this perf level ST is more than enough so it loses relevance. Would be nice if you guys would compare ST perf with Nehalem and newer desktop cores.

    Anyway, it blows that you insist on using the same empty synthetic benchmarks that have no relevance at all. SPECint2000 and Geekbench are fine but all else is irrelevant.

    "Where the 820 MDP/S makes up for it is in the photo editing score, which is through the roof. Here Qualcomm’s development device holds a 34% performance lead over the next-fastest device, the 810/A57 based Mi Note Pro."
    So using the GPU or DSP? If so , is it cheating or (all) actual apps will use the GPU/DSP too, as they should. How about the behaviour of all other SoCs. Long live synthetic! It's like begging them to cheat....

    "Apple’s commanding lead in ARM CPU performance."
    How is that exactly? Have you actually done any math , at the very least at equal per core power? In die area Apple is far behind but you don't like that being mentioned.
    In Geekbench Apple does 2.5k in each of the 3 segments, Kryo does about 2.1k in FP and integer and well over 3k in memory. So 20% higher clocks could eneble Kryo to match Apple's core in FP and integer. It's not impossible that in a dual core config Kryo could clock 20% higher. Same for A72. In the end if MTK can clock 2xA72 at 2.5GHz on 20nm, they could do much better on 16ff+. In theory 16ff+ can provide up to 40% higher speed over 20nm but only some 30% is needed. Ofc A72 is also much much smaller than Apple's core and you can actually make a cheap SoC with it for 150$ phones.

    vs A72 ,it's hard to assume things. If A72 goes to 2.5 GHz in quad config and matches the SD820 in power ,then it's somewhat even and not really.
    In Geekbench Kryo at 2.15 vs A72 at 2.5Ghz should be about even in integer with Kryo having some 10% lead in FP but Kryo would be at higher per core power.
    You got core 3 and 4 at likely half the power (or even less) at max load, so total power is like having 3 cores at max clocks. Folks could do that with A72 too.
    Ofc remains to be seen if A72 can reach 2.5GHz or even more with fewer cores and how everybody does in power.

    Will be very interesting to see Kryo in server. Assuming it will be a slightly tuned Kryo and not something very different.
    A72 does enable others to provide a multitude of configs in different price ranges and that could be interesting. Just today a Xiaomi device showed up in Geekbench with SD618 and just 2GB of RAM. 2GB of RAM would be too little for anything above Redmi 3 and Redmi 3 couldn't be priced above 699CNY (109$). Sure it would be dual A72 at low clocks on 28nm but it's a start.
  • tipoo - Thursday, December 10, 2015 - link

    You're assuming it will happily clock 20% higher with no disproportionate power draw increases. This is what Qualcomm provided, so it only makes sense for the reviewer to test it as they got it, rather than speculating on what it would be while higher clocked.

    I don't see how Apples die area matters to an end user. The cost is spread through the entirety of the product, they are premium products, but really all that matters in the end to a user is performance and battery life.

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