Not surprisingly, this year's smartphones feature faster processors than those from last year--that happens every year. But what is new this year is the predominance of machine learning features that just about every processor vendor is touting as a way of differentiating their devices. This is true for the phone vendors who design their own chips, the independent or merchant chip vendors who sell processors to phone vendors, and even the IP makers who design the cores that go into the processors themselves. First a little background: all modern application processors include designs (often referred to as intellectual property, or IP) from other companies, notably firms like ARM, Imagination Technologies, MIPS, and Ceva. Such IP can appear in various forms--for example, ARM sells everything from a basic license for its 32-bit and 64-bit architecture, to specific cores for CPUs, graphics, image processing, etc., that chip designers can then use to create processors.
Below is a high-level overview of the Snapdragon 888. Feel free to use our table of contents to jump ahead about what this all means in terms of real-world features, or refer back to our coverage of the prior Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 for more granular comparisons. Unlike with the Snapdragon Compute chips for Windows on Arm, the Kryo 680 CPU at the heart of the Snapdragon series has never been top-of-mind for smartphone buyers, mobile gamers excluded. With the Snapdragon 888, however, there are two key features: a new ability to sandbox apps within virtualization, and a CAI-qualified camera. The Snapdragon 888 can use virtualization to sandbox an potentially malicious app...or just wall off your work documents from your personal photos. Virtualization allows your smartphone to function as both a work device and as a personal device, with specific versions of the Android OS for both.
But the new Kryo 485 core includes something unusual: a "prime core." Typically, a Snapdragon chip includes four "performance" cores and four "efficiency" cores, the latter optimized for lower power. The Snapdragon 845 uses four ARM A75 cores at 2.8GHz and four A55 cores running at 1.8GHz. Qualcomm says the Kryo 485 within the Snapdragon 855 is 45 percent more powerful. Here are the speeds of each of the Snapdragon 855's Kryo cores. But there are some interesting differences between the 845 and the 855.
As we hurtle towards 2019, Qualcomm has been busy introducing the world to its latest products that are likely to drive next year's biggest trends. To be clear, there are a lot of highlights here. This is the first mobile processor to support multi-gigabit 5G, and is one of the first chips built on 7-nanometer architecture. The Snapdragon 855 also features (among other things) advances in AI processing and graphics prowess -- let's take a closer look. For all of Qualcomm's talk abut 5G, the 855 is fascinating because it mainly relies on a new, built-in X24 LTE modem, not the Snapdragon X50 5G modem we've heard so much about lately.
The Snapdragon 888 platform, unveiled on December 2 at Snapdragon Tech Summit Digital 2020, features a revised architecture, 5G multi-SIM connectivity, 5nm processes, a Kryo 680 processor (up to 2.84GHz), a third-generation Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF system, 6th-gen Qualcomm AI Engine, and a Triple Image Signal Processor (ISP) -- as well as Spectra 580 -- to data capture at up to 2.7 gigapixels per second. The latest flagship processor is expected to feature in premium mobile devices in 2021. While the revamped image processing functionality could be a way for OEMs to separate their camera-equipped smartphones from other models in a congested market, the AI functionality of the new processor family makes it possible. See also: Qualcomm brings 5G to Always On, Always Connected PCs with debut of Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 Qualcomm brings 5G to non-flagship mobiles with Snapdragon 690 Qualcomm's Cloud AI 100 aims for first half 2021 deployments Jeff Gehlhaar, VP of Technology, and Hsin-I Hsu, Senior Product Manager at Qualcomm said the 6th-generation Qualcomm AI Engine is the new jewel in Qualcomm's mobile AI crown, made possible through a substantial redesign of the AI processing system. As artificial intelligence becomes more complex -- now featured in our camera software, games, the natural language processing (NLP) capabilities of apps, and more -- an engine capable of high-performance AI processing is necessary to prompt innovation in the space.