Qualcomm today announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC, the company’s flagship chip that will be available for many Android phones over the next few months. Besides the usual newer, better, and faster cores, a big piece of news is the addition of Wi-Fi 7 support so you can have a better home wireless network—provided you invest in a new router.
Qualcomm has some claims for this new chip. The company says the CPU “improves performance by up to 35 percent” and has “up to 40 percent more power efficiency.” The GPU is supposed to deliver “up to 25 percent faster performance, with up to 45 percent better power efficiency.” Take both claims with a grain of salt, as last year Qualcomm promised a 20 percent CPU improvement that never showed up in shipping products. Even if Qualcomm delivers on these performance promises, it will still be about a year behind the iPhone. The company is trying to do something about its uncompetitive performance with the (now legally mortgaged) acquisition of Nuvia, but those chips aren’t ready yet.
Let’s start with the basics. This is a 4nm chip with an unusual design that has four different CPU cores, all designed by Arm. The base core is an Arm Cortex X3 at 3.2GHz—that’s all fine and to be expected, hence the recommended Arm build is three Cortex A710 CPUs for “medium-duty” and four A510 CPUs for low-power background processing. However, Qualcomm doesn’t follow the recommended layout, and after the Cortex X3 it has two different cores that do “medium” duty: a pair of Cortex-A715 CPUs and a pair of last-generation Cortex-A710 CPUs. After that, there are only three — not the expected four — Cortex A510 CPUs doing background duty.
Perhaps the reason Qualcomm has thrown a pair of A710s into the mix is 32-bit support. Arm’s recommended core design for this new generation is a set of 64-bit chips only, meaning that any 32-bit applications will not be able to run. This isn’t a problem for most of the world — the Pixel 7 actually shipped as the world’s first Android phone that couldn’t run 32-bit apps (the entire OS isn’t 64-bit just yet). Google Play Store has required 64-bit binaries since 2019, and today you will never notice this lack of 32-bit support. For China, there is no Google Play Store, and the free-for-all means 32-bit support has never been abandoned so quickly. It’s also not clear if Google is ready for full 64-bit support, with the Pixel 7 in place Still charging With some 32-bit libraries. Mixing and matching with older cores allows Qualcomm to keep 32-bit support rolling for another year.
Qualcomm promises a maximum Wi-Fi speed of 5.8Gbps with the new Wi-Fi 7 support, but the big advantage is more spectrum that you can share with your neighbors. If you’re in a crowded apartment building with lots of access points, it’s easy to confuse the airways and have everyone’s Wi-Fi work poorly. Just like Wi-Fi 6e, Wi-Fi 7 adds an extra mass of spectrum that your devices can choose from, which will help in crowded places. The problem is that you’ll need a Wi-Fi 7 access point to see these benefits, and there aren’t many options right now. TP Link recently promised to deliver devices in the first quarter of 2023.
Qualcomm was already beaten by hardware ray tracing support by Samsung (with help from AMD) and Arm’s Immortalis GPU, but now the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 can do impressive lighting effects, too. I don’t think there are any serious uses for mobile software for ray tracing yet.
This is the first Snapdragon chip to include support for AV1, a royalty-free video codec supported by a huge list of big hitters like Amazon, Apple, Arm, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Nvidia, and Samsung. Netflix and YouTube have worked on AV1 by making codec support mandatory for device manufacturers seeking to license these services.
We’ll think of this as the SoC for most of the flagship smartphones in 2023, but Qualcomm says some partners will already have devices before the end of the year.
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