Snapdragon 855 marked by gains in connectivity, performance, artificial intelligence, imaging and entertainment
Wailea, HAWAII–The first day of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit teased the chipmaker’s new premium-tier mobile platform, the Snapdragon 855, and day two got down into the nuts and bolts. In kicking off a series of deep dives into various aspects of the new SoC, SVP and GM of Mobile Alex Katouzian noted the day one livestream drew some 110,000 viewers. “To our competitors who are watching, please pay special attention on the 855 detail sessions to see what you have to compete with. It’s gonna be tough.”
From there, a series of speakers took attendees to the event, hosted for the second year in a row at the Grand Wailea in Maui, through the five key aspects of the new SoC: connectivity, performance, AI, camera and entertainment.
Durga Malladi, SVP and GM of 4G/5G, told the audience, “Welcome to the decade of multi-gigabit wireless connectivity. We are no longer talking about just a single gigabit but multi-gigabit.”
Snapdragon 855 has Qualcomm’s X24 modem built in and, as devices come to market, the SoC will likely be paired with the X50 5G modem; this configuration allows a device to connect to both gigabit LTE networks as well as 5G networks spanning the spectral range from millimeter wave frequencies to sub-6 GHz bands.
The 7-nanometer X24 LTE modem can support up to 2 Gbps peak download speeds. The X50, coupled with Qualcomm’s millimeter wave antenna modules, can support up to 5 Gbps. The new mobile platform features seven-channel carrier aggregation for FDD and TDD bands, and, Malladi said, enables 90% of global operators to get to multi-gigabit LTE.
For Wi-Fi, the new solution is ready for Wi-Fi 6, the brand name for 802.11ax, as well as WiGig, which is based on the 802.11ay standard and uses 60 GHz spectrum to deliver up to 10 Gbps. “It’s a completely different ballgame,” Malladi said. “Welcome to the era of multi-gigabit connectivity.”
Snapdragon 855 is a technological marvel but, at the end of the day, Travis Lanier, a senior director of product management at Qualcomm, laid it out quite succinctly: “This CPU is a beast.” He said, as compared to the predecessor Snapdragon 845, the CPU is 45% faster and the GPU is 20% faster. “This is a huge performance increase for Snapdragon.”
What does all that horsepower mean for the end user? “The Snapdragon 855 is the fastest processor for the apps you care about,” Lanier said. As compared to competitors who make 7-nanometer mobile processors–Huawei’s Kirin 980 and Apple’s A12 Bionic–Snapdragon 855 show significant performance gains when used for go-to apps including Gmail, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, Instagram and YouTube.
“AI is moving at light speed,” Gary Brotman, senior director of product management, told Snapdragon Tech Summit attendees, noting examples of artificial intelligence programs detecting heart disease more accurately than doctors and helping farmers improve yields while lowering operating costs. He projected a long-term economic impact of $16 trillion attributed to AI.
“Ultimately the goal is to rival the intelligence, the processing power, of the human brain.” Differentiating between the gradual evolution of the human brain from the rapid pace of technology advancement, he called a key difference. With the brain, “Knowledge isn’t carried forward.” Every new human has to learn. With chips, “Knowledge is passed on from generation to generation.”
The fourth-generation, multi-core AI engine can pull off more than 7 trillion operations per second, which is a 3x performance improvement compared to its predecessor. There’s also a dedicated Tensor Accelerator, a 50% increase in arithmetic logic units, upgrades to the Neural Processing SDK and improvements to Google’s NN-API, the Hexagon NN and the Qualcomm Math Library.
In application, improvements to the AI capabilities of the platform allow for things like Google Translate, image recognition and contextualization, and new retail experiences wherein AR places objects, a new couch perhaps, into your living room.
Google’s Rajan Patel, senior director of engineering, described the collaborative work between the two companies and said, “With the Snapdragon 855, this is able to turn your phone’s camera from a tool to capture memories to a window into the world around you.” As Patel was leaving the stage and Brotman was returning, the pair bumped it and blew it up.
The image signal processing capability of Snapdragon 855 “rivals the image quality you can get on a DSLR,” Senior Director of Product Management Judd Heape said. “All of the things we do in the CPU, DSP and GPU are really great and really help the camera out. For the first time, what we’re doing is moving the computer vision and computational photography…and putting them in the hardware. We can do a lot of stuff much faster.”
Some of the key features of the Spectra 380 ISP, in addition to significantly improved performance and decreased power consumption, are depth sensing for real-time video capture, object classification and object segmentation in 4K HDR at 60 frames per second. The new ISP is the first announced that captures video in HDR 10+, and offers the ability to save and send images or video in an HEIF format rather than JPG.
Snapdragon 855 is designed to provide immersive gaming, cinematic and extended reality experiences. At a time when you can’t ride the train without seeing someone double pumping through Fortnite, coupled with the massive revenue generation associated with mobile gaming, Qualcomm pushed the Snapdragon Elite Gaming Experience solution, which comprises cinematic color grading in HDR, filmic tone-mapping, PBR and the Vulkan 1.1 graphics library.
Another key aspect of the mobile gaming experience comes with 5G–reduced latencies allow for more dynamic, responsive game play and should make for very smooth melee.
For movies, the ISP’s support for HDR10+ also includes video playback, which is a first for mobile, and updated video decoding can extend watch time by upping energy efficiency. XR draws on the aforementioned capabilities to support immersive AR/VR experiences at up to 8K resolutions.