The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Performance Preview: Sizing Up Cortex-X2by Dr. Ian Cutress on December 14, 2021 8:00 AM EST
Conclusionary Remarks: Arm v9 for Android
When we move through significant revisions of Arm’s architecture, up to v8 and now v9, it’s important to note that the new features defined in the ISA do not always fundamentally improve performance – it’s up to the microarchitecture teams to build the cores to the ISA specifications, and the implementation teams to enable the core in silicon with frequency and power efficiency. Accomplishing that requires a good process node, design technology co-optimization, and then partners that can execute by building the best devices for that processor.
Qualcomm’s target with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is very clearly the 2022 Android Flagship smartphones. New cores, new graphics, enhanced machine learning capabilities, a step function in camera processing power, an integrated X65 modem, all built on Samsung’s 4nm process node technology. The flagship Android space is an area in which Qualcomm has been comfortable for a number of years, however the increased thermals of last generation’s Snapdragon S888 gave a number of analysts in the space a bit of a squeaky bum moment.
It’s hard to tell immediately in our small test if that still remains the case. Samsung’s 4nm node has improvements beyond the previous generation 5nm design, however Qualcomm’s presentational numbers were above and beyond those that Samsung provided, perhaps indicating that additional improvements both in architecture and implementation have led to those performance numbers.
Our testing shows +19% floating point performance on the X2 core, which is almost the +20% that Qualcomm quotes, but only +8% in integer, which is often the most quoted. We’re seeing power efficiency improvements for sure on the X2 core, with an overall efficiency improvement of 17%, but peak power has also increased, in part because some of our tests make use of the additional cache in the system. Our machine learning tests are +75% over the previous generation, although not the 4x numbers that Qualcomm states – we need to do more work here on power efficiency testing however. On the gaming side, our 'first run' numbers showcase some explosive gains in GPU throughput.
Although we’ve only done a few tests here, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room: MediaTek. In the last month MediaTek announced a return to the high-end with a flagship processor of its own, using the same 1+3+4 configuration with slightly higher frequencies, more cache, and built on TSMC’s N4 process. Implementation here will be the key metric I feel, so how MediaTek has been able to optimize for TSMC N4 vs Qualcomm on Samsung 4nm is going to be analyzed. I should point out here that a processor is more than just the CPU cores, as we’ll see Adreno vs Mali on graphics, the different machine learning approaches, but also how the two companies approach 5G and connectivity, which has been one of Qualcomm’s most prominent strengths to date.
We look forward to testing the Qualcomm S8g1 in more detail in the New Year, as well as how many of the main smartphone OEMs choose Qualcomm for their flagship devices.