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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  • North01 - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    "When we’re looking at competitor devices we see only the the iPhone X able to compete with the last generation Snapdragon 835 devices – however with a catch. The A11 is severely thermally constrained and is only able to achieve these scores when the devices are cold. Indeed as seen from the smaller score of the iPhone 8, the SoC isn’t able to sustain maximum performance for even one benchmark run before having to throttle."

    I was curious about that, as the iPhone X has a lower score on Futuremark's website.


    3DMark Sling Shot Extreme Unlimited

    iPhone X (A11)
    Average score: 3175
    Physics score: 2206
    Graphics score: 3625

    iPhone 8 (A11)
    Average score: 2802
    Physics score: 1988
    Graphics score: 3166

    Pixel 2 (Snapdragon 835)
    Average score: 3531
    Physics score: 2951
    Graphics score: 3723

    The Snapdragon 845 is looking to be rather impressive, hopefully we can find out more about its sustained performance when it launches in upcoming devices.
  • Matthmaroo - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    Yes but A11 was already deployed , by the time this soc is in the hands of people - A12 will be a factor

    Good on Qualcomm for catching up but still 6 months to a year behind
  • North01 - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    I'm a bit confused by your comment. The comparison was between the Snapdragon 835 (H1 2017) and the A11 (H2 2017).
  • Commodus - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    I believe he was referring to the 845 comments at the end. And this is the usual yearly concern: people wax ecstatic, thinking Qualcomm has finally caught up to or beaten Apple... and forget that the phones with the new chip are shipping half a year later (or longer) after Apple's, so any advantage is short-lived.
  • vanilla_gorilla - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    That's an interesting perspective. Couldn't you just as easily say that any time an iPhone is launched with a new SoC it's advantage will be short lived as the next Qualcomm SoC will be faster? It seems to me they're just leapfrogging each other each time.
  • Matthmaroo - Saturday, February 17, 2018 - link

    So the next gen Qualcomm chip gpu beats apples last gen tech.

    6 months from now we will have a phone with the 845 and 7 months from now we will have the A12 - that’s the actual comparison

    Huge win

    They still can keep up with apples single thread performance.
  • ciparis - Sunday, February 18, 2018 - link

    "So the next gen Qualcomm chip gpu beats apples last gen tech."

    Except it doesn't -- not remotely. Qualcomm is reliably 2-3 generations behind in performance of flagship phones.
  • Santoval - Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - link

    Which review did you read (if you read any)?
  • lilmoe - Monday, February 12, 2018 - link

    The A11 isn't, in any way, superior to the SD835 for mobile. Get this through your heads people. Have you been under a rock? Haven't you been reading about the failures of Apple's core architecture? What else do you want as proof?

  • neoncat - Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - link

    <Kevin Bacon in Animal House>


    </Kevin Bacon in Animal House>

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