Qualcomm has just announced the new flagship system on chip at their Tech Summit event in Maui, Hawaii. This is the chip that will power nearly all the flagship phones on the market that don’t come from Huawei or Apple.

It also means we now have information on all the main SoCs that will be used in Android phones next year, and we have a basic run down on how each of them stack up against each other, with a summary table at the bottom of the post.

Similar to both Samsung and Huawei/HiSilicon , Qualcomm have shrunk the fabrication process of the new chip down to 7nm and at the heart of this chip is Arm’s new Cortex-A76 CPUs similar to the Kirin 980.

Arm A76 CPU layout

This year we have seen a departure from the 4×4 layout of the processors with both Samsung and HiSilicon opting to go for a 2x2x4 approach. Qualcomm have taken a different path and layed out the processors as 1x3x4.

As previously reported this new tri-cluster design uses a single prime core Kryo 485 Gold (A76) running at 2.84GHz with 1x512KB cache then three performance cores Kryo 485 Gold (A76) running at 2.42GHz with 256KB cache each. Lastly the four efficiency cores using the Kryo 485 Silver (A55) running at 1.80GHz each with 128KB cache.

Qualcomm’s 2.84GHz clock is 9.2% higher than HiSilicon 2.6GHz frequency but on a single core compared to two.

Qualcomm have actually adapted the A76 design to suit their own needs with the reference design using a 128 instruction buffer, whereas Qualcomm’s modified A76 has been increased to an undisclosed size. It is likely Samsung do something similar with their custom CPU built around the A76. How much difference this makes to real world performance will be hard to tell.

Qualcomm claims of up to at 45% increase over the Snapdragon 845 but exactly what that represents is currently unknown.

Adreno 640 GPU

Qualcomm are a little coy about specifics with their new GPU technology each year so there is no direct comparisons to be made with the HiSilicon Kirin 980 or Exynos 9820.

Qualcomm state that there should be a  20% increased performance from the previous generation. Qualcomm did highlight a lot  of new graphical features. with the Adreno 640. Here we saw claims that the Adreno 640 graphics in the SD855 will enable true HDR gaming, as well games built around Physically Based Rendering (more on that in a bit). The graphics pipeline will support 10-bit color depth and the Rec 2020 gamut to enable HDR, as well as enabling SD855 devices to support the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision formats, which Qualcomm states is a world’s first. With the Adreno 640, along with the display IP, devices can support 120fps gaming as well as smooth 8K 360-degree video playback.

Hexagon 690 DSP

Qualcomm don’t use the term NPU but with the new  Snapdragon 855 features the Hexagon 690 DSP which acts as the heart of the AI technology. There are a lot of technical terms on how the DSP has been improved but the highlights include:

  • Doubles the HVX vector pipelines compared to the Hexagon 680
  • New Tenso Xccelerator which could be Qualcomm’s first generation dedicated ML inferencing engine (NPU as HiSilicon branded it)
  • A new Voice Assistant AI module, designed to accelerate processing for common AI assistants – Qualcomm specifically states Baidu and Google in this case

Spectra 380 ISP

The image signalling processor has been upgraded to the Spectra 380 the specifics of the upgrades are beyond my technical understanding but the end result is :

  • 4x power for image object classification, object segmentation, depth sensing (at 60 FPS), augmented reality body tracking, and image stabilisation.
  • 4K HDR at 60 FPS with both portrait mode enhancements and depth sensing for live bokeh.
  • Power consumption for 4K HDR capture will be 30% lower than the Snapdragon 845.
  • HEIF files instead of JPEG offering 50% smaller file size, HDR Support for multiple color spaces, RAW data, Depth Map support and more

The HEIF files sound quite interesting, due to all the extra data it stores you can  store a photo from every camera: a telephoto, a wide angle photo, and a super-wide angle photo for example. This allows of post processing such as bokeh adjustment, object segmentation, quality adjustments, and to a certain extent even basic 3D modelling.

Connectivity

This was always going to be a big talking point from Qualcomm, 5G is just about to be launched so the new chip was guaranteed to have support for it. However as was already suspected the SoC doesn’t support it out of the box, it needs to be paired with a X50 modem.

Built into the chip is the Snapdragon X24 modem, which offers LTE Category 20 class download speeds good for up to 2 Gbps on supported devices and networks. The increased speeds is achieved by up to 7x carrier aggregation with 4×4 MIMO and 256QAM. On the upload side, the new SoC modem now also for the first time supports 256QAM, able to double the peak upload rate to up to 300Mbps with 3xCA.

The Snapdragon 855 is a platform, and among one of the new platform capabilities is the support of the new WiFi 6 standard (802.11ax) as well as the new 60GHz “Wi-Gig” 802.11ay standard, enabled by an external WiFi combo chipset.

OnePlus 7 is the first device with Snapdragon 855

One of the interesting pieces of news from the announcement is that OnePlus will be the first company to release a Snapdragon 855 equipped phone. This is a massive departure from previous trends, this was typically a Samsung achievement and OnePlus often launched their phone quite late in the game.

Also interesting is the fact that OnePlus was given the responsibility for building Europe’s first 5G device.

This is an impressive achievement for a company that only released its first device four years ago.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Vs HiSilicon Kirin 980 vs Exynos 9820

 Snapdragon 855Snapdragon 845Exynos 9810HiSilicon Kirin 980Exynos 9820
Process7nm (N7)2nd Gen 10nm FinFET2nd Gen 10nm FinFET7nm8 nm LPP (Low Power Plus) FinFET
CPU CoresOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bit
CPU1x Kryo 485 Gold (A76)
@ 2.84GHz 1x512KB

3x Kryo 485 Gold (A76)
@ 2.42GHz 3x256KB

4x Kryo 485 Silver (A55)
@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB
4 x 2.8GHz Kryo 385 + 4 x 1.7GHz Kryo 3854 x 2.9GHz Exynos M3 + 4 x 1.9GHz Cortex-A552x Cortex-A76 @ 2.6GHz
2x Cortex-A76 @ 1.92GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz
(4MB shared L3 cache)
2x Custom CPU
2x Cortex-A75
4x Cortex-A55
GPUAdreno 640 @ ? MHzAdreno 630ARM Mali-G72 MP18Mali-G76 MP10ARM Mali G76 MP12
NPUYes (Hexagon 690 DSP)YesNoDual NPUYes
RAM4x 16-bit CH @ 2133 MHz
LPDDR4x
34.1GB/s
LPDDR4X Quad-channel 16-bit 1866 MHzLPDDR4XLPDDR4X @ 2133MHzLPDDR4x
StorageUFS 2.1, & SD 3.0UFS 2.1, & SD 3.0UFS 2.1?UFS 2.1/3.0
ISPDual 14-bit Spectra 380 ISP
1x 48MP or 2x 22 MP
Dual ISPDual ISPDual ISPDual ISP
Video Playback & Codecs2160p60 10-bit H.265
HDR10, HDR10+, HLG
720p480
Up to 4K @ 60FPS; 10bit HDR, H.264 (AVC), H.265 (HEVC), VP9MFC, Up to 4K @ 120FPS; 10-bit HEVC (H.265), H.264, VP9?2160p60 HEVC & H.264 Decode
2160p30 Encode
HDR10
ModemSnapdragon X24 LTE
(Category 20)
DL = 2000Mbps
7x20MHz CA, 256-QAM, 4x4
UL = 316Mbps
3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM
X20 LTE Cat. 18 1.2Gbps Download; LTE Cat. 13 150Mbps UploadLTE Cat. 18 6CA 1.2Gbps Download; LTE Cat. 18 2CA 200 Mbps UploadLTE Cat 21
1.4Gbps down / 200Mbps up
LTE-A Cat.20 8CA (2Gbps download)
Cat.20 3CA (316Mbps upload)
Wi-FiSupport for WiFi 6 standard (802.11ax) as well as the new 60GHz “Wi-Gig” 802.11ay, enabled by an external WiFi combo chipset.Wi-Fi ad, Multi-gigabit Wi-Fi ac/b/g/n with MU-MIMODual-Band Wi-Fi ac/b/g/n with MU-MIMOHi1103 WiFi chip supports 1732Mbps with Wi-Fi and, Multi-gigabit Wi-Fi ac/b/g/n with MU-MIMOWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
ChargingQuick Charge 4+ (USB PD Compatible)Samsung Adaptive Fast Charge, Fast Wireless Charging (Qi & PMA)SuperCharge 4.5V / 5A low-voltage fast chargingSamsung Adaptive Fast Charge, Fast Wireless Charging (Qi & PMA)