Qualcomm Snapdragon 845: Powerful Smartphone Processor

GadgetFrame 10 Jul, 2018

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 is one of the fastest mobile processors available right now. The processor comes with a change in architecture which adds performance, efficiency, and features to it. Let us look at the performance of Snapdragon 845 in different areas of interest: Camera, Performance, Battery life, Connectivity, Immersion, AI, and Security. Although, a lot of you have been using the smartphone with this processor as many phones with this processor are out in the market, let's have a look through the processor in a detail.

Camera

With the Snapdragon 845, the camera will be capable of capturing 4K Ultra HD Premium HDR video. This feature is similar to the feature-set used in Hollywood movies (1 Billion colors + HDR). This is not exactly Cinema-quality, but in general, this is a huge improvement in video recording (16.7M colors, no HDR). Today’s best devices can “play” this kind of content, but Snapdragon 845 phones will be able to create that content.

With the enhancement in Image Signal Processor(ISP) of the processor and the overall subsystem are so fast that, it makes a 720p video at 480 FPS a possibility in handheld devices. This will allow video creators to capture amazing slow-motion videos without having buffering limitations often encountered with this kind of extreme situations. For example, Sony has an extreme 960 FPS slow-motion recording, but only for a very short time. And yes, you can capture 1080p at 240FPS and 4K UHD HDR at 60FPS.

Performance

The performance of the Snapdragon processor is always good as compared to rivals in the market. The performance on 845 has been enhanced with a use of ISP, GPU. The DSP (Digital Signal Processor) and use of the CPU cluster have benefited 845.

Snapdragon 845 is manufactured using Samsung’s second-generation 10nm process, which is an optimization of last year’s introductory 10nm semiconductor node. There are very small improvements in performance and efficiency derived from this.

845 Architecture

1.Kryo 385 CPU

The CPU cluster is divided into two groups of four cores: four high-performance cores (ARM A75 derivatives, 2.8GHz max) to process workloads as fast as possible. There are also four other low-power cores (ARM A55 derivatives, 1.8 GHz max) to handle less intensive tasks with the best possible power-efficiency.

Qualcomm did some custom work on the CPU cores and therefore named it Kryo 385. Qualcomm often tunes a specific core design or can build CPU cores from the ground up if necessary. This time, Qualcomm has done some custom work on the A75 and A55 designs from ARM but did not rebuild the cores from the ground up.

2.Hexagon 685 DSP

The DSP (Digital Signal Processor) is a specialized computing unit that can perform vector math on large quantities of data with extreme power-efficiency. It can be used for a vast array of things, but not limited to 2D image processing/effects, depth sensing for face-recognition, artificial intelligence inference and more.

We often think of the GPU when it comes to massive math workloads, and it is not bad to think. However, the DSP and the GPU are complementary tools that serve different situations. It is impossible to generalize completely, but DSPs are often more appropriate to use when you need to quickly process relatively small quantities of data. GPUs can be great at churning super-massive quantities of data, but they also require more setup and have more overhead. In reality, it’s not DSP vs. GPU — both can be extremely useful depending on the app.

Hexagon 685 is 3X faster than last year’s Hexagon 682. Without a doubt, Qualcomm has increased the number of math units. This kind of performance increase matches the arrival of Google’s Neural API for Android 8.1+.

3.Adreno 630 GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

This unit is made for enhancement for 3D gaming and Virtual Reality(VR) performance. A GPU can also be used for artificial intelligence and other non-graphics workloads, but it’s fair to say that 3D graphics is the main purpose here.

Adreno 630 GPU

At the moment, Qualcomm has stated that with the new GPU, 30% graphics performance improvement should come out of this new design.

Additionally, Qualcomm also claims a 30% power-efficiency increase, which means that Snapdragon 845 can perform the same rendering while using 30% less energy as its predecessor. That is a rather large increase in both efficiency and speed.

Battery Life

When we come to the smartphone, battery life is of the most talked topic. Obviously, battery life is most important. Power optimizations are always at the top of the list for mobile chip engineers. The software can be optimized to offload work (when possible) to the most efficient sub-systems.

The addition of multiple cache layers reduces RAM access by as much as 75%, thus helping save power as well. The hardware has multiple clock domains and voltage domains, which means that the chip has several power islands that can use the most optimum amount of power at any given time. This leads to continuous savings if the tuning is done properly.

Connectivity

1.Cellular

Last year’s world-class X16 LTE modem is replaced by a more advanced X20 model that can reach 1200 Mbps in theoretical peak speed (vs. 1000 before). That is of course if your wireless carrier supports it locally.

Even without an advanced network, Qualcomm uses MIMO (multiple inputs multiple outputs) techniques with up to four antennas that lead to large performance increases due to sheer parallelism on existing networks.

2.WiFi

Qualcomm has added support for 60 GHz WiFi AD (802.11ad) which is a 4.6 Gbps short range WiFi connection ideal for large data transfer from within your network. Today many people still use wired Ethernet which is considered to be faster and more reliable. However, this technology could, in theory, replace wires within a 30-feet range. Keep in mind that the range is typically a distance without any physical obstacles that could disturb the signal.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I)

As of late, several silicon vendors have announced their flavor of “Neural Processors” with various marketing claims. However, the same OEMs have been dodgy when asked for details about the specs and capabilities of said neural computing units. To Qualcomm’s point, “neural processors” for mobile are almost always “DSP” units being re-marketed.

As we have seen earlier, the Qualcomm Hexagon 685 DSP is the 3rd generation that has been used in an AI context. The 300% performance increase from last year’s model shows that Qualcomm’s customers are taking AI very seriously and demanding more horsepower for that kind of workload.

However, Qualcomm’s AI effort doesn’t rely on a single unit. The DSP is surely the central nexus, but the embedded Adreno GPU supports FP16 numbers, and the CPU has been optimized to support 8-bit operations that are commonly used in AI. With these changes, developers have a wide array of AI tools at their disposal to optimize different types of workload.

Security

Maybe the most obscure but important aspect of Snapdragon chips is security. First, it is important to know that security is not equal for all chips and that standards can be pretty loose (if there are any outside of payment). Not so long ago, some phones stored the fingerprint sensor data in the public area of the phone’s storage!

Previous generations of Qualcomm Snapdragon chips as a trusted execution zone which was secure. However, with the recent apparition of hacks for that kind of trusted environment, Snapdragon 845 has a new “Secure Processing Unit” which is more isolated from the rest of the SoC’s sub-system.

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