At the recent Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit, the company announced its new flagship smartphone processor, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Replacing the Snapdragon 888, this new chip is set to be in a number of high performance flagship smartphones in 2022. The new chip is Qualcomm’s first to use Arm v9 CPU cores as well as Samsung’s 4nm process node technology. In advance of devices coming in Q1, we attended a benchmarking session using Qualcomm’s reference design, and had a couple of hours to run tests focused on the new performance core, based on Arm’s Cortex-X2 core IP.

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1

Rather than continue with the 800 naming scheme, Qualcomm is renaming its smartphone processor portfolio to make it easier to understand / market to consumers. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (hereafter referred to as S8g1 or 8g1) will be the headliner for the portfolio, and we expect Qualcomm to announce other processors in the family as we move into 2022. The S8g1 uses the latest range of Arm core IP, along with updated Adreno, Hexagon, and connectivity IP including an integrated X65 modem capable of both mmWave and Sub 6 GHz for a worldwide solution in a single chip.

While Qualcomm hasn’t given any additional insight into the Adreno / graphics part of the hardware, not even giving us a 3-digit identifier, we have been told that it is a new ground up design. Qualcomm has also told us that the new GPU family is designed to look very similar to previous Adreno GPU sfrom a feature/API standpoint, which means that for existing games and other apps, it should allow a smooth transition with better performance.  We had time to run a few traditional gaming tests in this piece.

On the DSP side, Qualcomm’s headlines are that the chip can process 3.2 Gigapixels/sec for the cameras with an 18-bit pipeline, suitable for a single 200MP camera, 64MP burst capture, or 8K HDR video. The encode/decode engines allow for 8K30 or 4K120 10-bit H.265 encode, as well as 720p960 infinite recording. There is no AV1 decode engine in this chip, with Qualcomm’s VPs stating that the timing for their IP block did not synchronize with this chip.

Qualcomm's Alex Katouzian

AI inference performance has also quadrupled - 2x from architecture updates and 2x from software. We have a couple of AI tests in this piece.

As usual with these benchmarking sessions, we’re very interested in what the CPU part of the chip can do. The new S8g1 from Qualcomm features a 1+3+4 configuration, similar to the Snapdragon S888, but using Arm’s newest v9 architecture cores.

  1. The single big core is a Cortex-X2, running at 3.0 GHz with 1 MiB of private L2 cache.
  2. The middle cores are Cortex-A710, running at 2.5 GHz with 512 KiB of private L2 cache.
  3. The four efficiency cores are Cortex-A510, running at 1.8 GHz and an unknown amount of L2 cache. These four cores are arranged in pairs, with L2 cache being private to a pair.
  4. On the top of these cores is an additional 6 MiB of shared L3 cache and 4 MiB of system level cache at the memory controller, which is a 64-bit LPDDR5-3200 interface for 51.2 GB/s theoretical peak bandwidth.

Compared to the Snapdragon S888, the X2 is clocked higher than the X1 by around 5% and has additional architectural improvements on top of that. Qualcomm is claiming +20% performance or +30% power efficiency for the new X2 core over X1, and on that last point it is beyond the +16% power efficiency quoted by Samsung moving from 5nm to 4nm, so there are additional efficiencies Qualcomm is implementing in silicon to get that number. Unfortunately Qualcomm would not go into detail what those are, nor provide details about how the voltage rails are separated, if this is the same as S888 or different – Arm has stated that the X2 core could offer reduced power than the X1, and if the X2 is on its own voltage rail that could provide support for Qualcomm’s claims.

The middle A710 cores are also Arm v9, with an 80 MHz bump over the previous generation likely provided by process node improvements. The smaller A510 efficiency cores are built as two complexes each of two cores, with a shared L2 cache in each complex. This layout is meant to provide better area efficiency, although Qualcomm did not explain how much L2 cache is in each complex – normally they do, but for whatever reason in this generation it wasn’t detailed. We didn’t probe the number in our testing here due to limited time, but no doubt when devices come to market we’ll find out.

On top of the cores is a 6 MiB L3 cache as part of the DSU, and a 4 MiB system cache with the memory controllers. Like last year, the cores do not have direct access to this 4 MiB cache. We’ve seen Qualcomm’s main high-end competitor for next year, MediaTek, showcase that L3+system cache will be 14 MiB, with cores having access to all, so it will be interesting to see how the two compare when we have the MTK chip to test.

Benchmarking Session: How It Works

For our benchmarking session, we were given a ‘Qualcomm Reference Device’ (QRD) – this is what Qualcomm builds to show a representation of how a flagship featuring the processor might look. It looks very similar to modern smartphones, with the goal to mirror something that might come to market in both software and hardware. The software part is important, as the partner devices are likely a couple of months from launch, and so we recognize that not everything is final here. These devices also tend to be thermally similar to a future retail example, and it’s pretty obvious if there was something odd in the thermals as we test.

These benchmark sessions usually involve 20-40 press, each with a device, for 2-4 hours as needed. Qualcomm preloads the device with a number of common benchmarking applications, as well as a data sheet of the results they should expect. Any member of the press that wants to sideload any new applications has to at least ask one of the reps or engineers in the room. In our traditional workflow, we sideload power monitoring tools and SPEC2017, along with our other microarchitecture tests. Qualcomm never has any issue with us using these.

As with previous QRD testing, there are two performance presets on the device – a baseline preset expected to showcase normal operation, and a high performance preset that opportunistically puts threads onto the X2 core even when power and thermals is quite high, giving the best score regardless. The debate in smartphone benchmarking of initial runs vs. sustained performance is a long one that we won’t go into here (most noticeably because 4 hours is too short to do any extensive sustained testing) however the performance mode is meant to enable a ‘first run’ score every time.

Testing the Cortex-X2: A New Android Flagship Core
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  • Kangal - Sunday, December 26, 2021 - link

    You keep hearing it because it is true. I didn't say the competitors lacked optimisation, but it's merely a difference of degree. No matter how hard Samsung can try, Apple will win by default simply because of those intangible advantages. Sometimes these are minor and meaningless victories, other times they are more pronounced and notable for users. But I digress.

    Sorry, you're wrong.
    Those were some of (if not the) strongest competitors against those respective iPhones. I challenge you to provide even better ones.

    I'm confident in this because I'm a nerd for these things. You can flip back to GSMArena and search for yourself. It is only to YOU that it LOOKS "random phones" because you're not as informed as I am, and secondly, because I tried to be unbiased and used diverse range of OEMs (Samsung, Sony, Google, ASUS). But there have been lots of interesting devices from the likes of LG, ZTE, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc etc over the years.

    I personally don't like the QSD 865. Sure it was faster than the QSD 855, but not by much, and it achieved it by using more power, generating more heat and throttling soon. The QSD 870 is a much much better implementation. Whilst the QSD 888+ is much much worse, as they doubled down to use even more power, generate more heat, throttle even sooner. Why did Qualcomm do this? Just to try and catch up to the Apple A13! Like it or not, Apple is two-generations ahead of the industry now, and that's why they've taken it easy with the designs on the A14 and A15.

    I suspected the QC 8g1 will be very similar to the QSD 888+, lackluster, and the independent reports that have been published recently shows its as bad as I estimated. So whilst there is a fairly big difference when going from the QSD 768G (best high-end) to the likes of the QSD 855 (worst luxury/flagship), there is very little difference in real-world use going from the QSD 855 to the QC 8g1 (best flagship). There's so much more to a processor than unrealistic synthetic benchmarks. So I recommend people to stick with their 2019 Samsung S10+, ASUS RoG 2, OnePlus 7t, and similar phones for another year. We will see a much larger improvement in 2023 with the Second-gen ARMv9 processors that were designed by the European Team. That will probably match or surpass the Apple A15 then, but it will leave Apple with a 18 month window to either: lose some ground, maintain it, or extend their lead. Time will tell.
  • Qasar - Sunday, December 26, 2021 - link

    Kangal, you keep touting how great the iphone is over any android device, but the truth is, for the most part any apple product will ALWAYS be a niche product, for one simple reason, price. apple is just too expensive for most people. i work with about 50 people, and only 4 of them have an iphone, and only one of them have a mac of some sort, and its all because of price. one who currently has an iphone, is looking at an android based phone, all because apple is just too expensive for what you get. its not called the apple tax for nothing....
  • Kangal - Monday, December 27, 2021 - link

    I agree with you there.
    Apple is one/the most profitable corporation in the world. Their gaming division makes more money than PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, and Steam combined. That's why they don't want to move into AAA-Gaming and are very comfortable catering for Mobile Gaming, In-App-Purchases, with their 30% cut. Their telephone division sells only 20% of the worldwide phones, but they reap over 80% of all the profits in the whole market. The Apple Watch sells more watches than any other watch in the world, regardless if their smart or analogue. They have the highest Tablet sales in the iPad. And I believe the Apple TV sells one of the highest of all TV Boxes.

    Now if the issue is merely about money, then the solution becomes rather simple. If I told you, that 40 of your friends were going to receive iPhones (locked to them, so no resale) for FREE, and I also told you it comes with a $100 balance to spend on Apps. Well, then there's little argument to be made here.

    Ofcourse, we don't live in a vacuum. Price is important, so value for money is a reality we must consider. So that's the nuance. I can say iPhones are great and have many advantages, but I can also not use one personally, and not recommend one for people who are middle-class, poor, or budgeting.
  • Qasar - Monday, December 27, 2021 - link

    have you SEEN the prices for their products ???????????????????????????? if they weren't the most profitable, some thing would be horribly wrong. doesnt change the fact, that apple is over priced for what you get.

    i bet quite a few of them, would say no thanks. some arent fans of apple at all. and would just use those as paper weights. i wouldnt use an iphone even if apple payed me to.

    " and not recommend one for people who are middle-class, poor, or budgeting. " so, you then go and pretty much insult them ? wow, get off your high horse. they dont buy apple products because they are over priced, some can afford them, but they dont buy them, as again over priced, and have better things to spend their money on.
  • Kangal - Wednesday, December 29, 2021 - link

    Yes, I saw their prices.
    Some of the most expensive and over-priced products in the world, actually most, come from companies that are actually struggling financially. Apple is not. They are thriving.

    So for them to be able to price their products that high, AND, be very profitable says something about the product they are selling. Clearly hundreds of millions of buyers every year, they do not agree with you, they see the value with their product and it's services.

    I am not on a high horse, and frankly I don't think you know what you are talking about. Stating that someone is budgeting (rich or poor), or they are middle-class, or even if they are impoverished... IS NOT AN INSULT. It is not a joke, but a reality, some people can afford things others cannot. And for me to say, this product is not recommended for those people, that is very appropriate. It would be worse for me to say otherwise. Otherwise, it would be the case that yourself Qasar, is recommending that a person who is looking to buy a base-model Hyundai, you find it appropriate for them to also shop for an Audi.

    If you CAN afford an iPhone, AND, if you WANT the features/characteristics of an iPhone. Then buy an iPhone. That is all I'm saying. If you DON'T like the characteristics of an iPhone, shop around. If you CANNOT afford an iPhone, then it wasn't an option to begin with. Nothing controversial there.
  • Qasar - Wednesday, December 29, 2021 - link

    " Stating that someone is budgeting (rich or poor), or they are middle-class, or even if they are impoverished... IS NOT AN INSULT " i showed some of them at work this, and they consider what you are saying as in insult to them, cause you ASSUME that that cant afford it, they can, but they wont spend that kind of money on a phone ( iphones cost at least 1k here.)

    " If you CAN afford an iPhone, AND, if you WANT the features/characteristics of an iPhone. Then buy an iPhone. " they CAN afford one, the do like the features and such of them, but as i said, WAY to expensive. not worth the price.

    "If you CANNOT afford an iPhone, then it wasn't an option to begin with. Nothing controversial there." the same can be said about your lame analogy between the hyundi and audi.

    bottom line STILL stands, apple products are overpriced. while others are willing to pay those prices, there are just as many who wont, who would rather spend that kind of money on more useful things then a phone, specially when from what i have seen, and heard, they will spend that kind of money, but then cant afford, or wont spend the extra 50 bucks or less to put that phone in a case to protect it from damage, which is ironic. i know quite a few out side of work, where with in a month, their brand new iphone, has a cracked screen, or some other damage.
  • Kangal - Thursday, December 30, 2021 - link

    Well, the problem here is that you are wrong, but you are too narrow-focussed to understand. This will seem insulting to you, but it isn't my intention.

    I doubt you showed this comment to your friends. And even if you did, their reaction doesn't make you correct. If they WANT an iPhone, and they CAN afford it, but they CHOOSE to not buy one. Well, that's their choice. As I said above. There's nothing wrong or bad about that, I do not want to control people, I want people to make their own decisions with their own money.

    And the thing you also got wrong, is that I never said the iPhone is the best. You can read my comments over again. Apple does a lot of things great, and somethings they do best, but that doesn't make them "the best". Because what is "the best" depends on an individual perspective. As an analogy, someone might think their porsche is the best car in the world, for another person it might be their JEEP, and for someone else it might actually be a Subaru. All three are correct for different reasons: fastest, versus durable, versus versatile.

    The bottom-line is that, it is just YOU who subjectively FEELS like the iPhone is overpriced. Whereas, according to the world, it is not. The iPhone is the top selling phone model in the world. People all over the world are LITERALLY voting with their wallets for it, which means for HUNDREDS of MILLIONS they don't think it is overpriced (they justify its costs).

    I (Kangal) personally don't use an iPhone, as there are phones better for my wants/uses/needs. So I can't justify the cost, even though I personally CAN afford one.... BUT! That doesn't mean I am going to lie and be an Android fanboy. I can admit Apple's innovation and truthfully respect iPhones, without needing to buy one. With that said, there is A LOT of things I do not like about them also.

    I think there isn't anything else needed to say on this subject. People can read all my comments, in context, for themselves.
  • Qasar - Friday, December 31, 2021 - link

    " Well, the problem here is that you are wrong, " could say the same to you.
    " I doubt you showed this comment to your friends " i did, but i doubt anything i will say, will convince you other wise
    " If they WANT an iPhone, and they CAN afford it, but they CHOOSE to not buy one. Well, that's their choice. " the DO want an iphone, but YET again, they find they are not worth the price, as they find them too expensive.
    " The bottom-line is that, it is just YOU who subjectively FEELS like the iPhone is overpriced. " WRONG. most of the people i work with says the iphones are over priced, its not just me, why else do you think only 4 people have them ? but, hey if YOU feel 1k is not to much for a phone, then that is your view.

    " The iPhone is the top selling phone model in the world. " and part of that, is probably due to phone carriers offering subsidiaries for phones, at least they do here. but you get stuck with at least a 2 year plan with them, some times longer, bust those i work with, still wouldnt get one.

    " I think there isn't anything else needed to say on this subject. People can read all my comments, in context, for themselves. " agreed.
  • Wereweeb - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    Now install a privacy-oriented open-source OS on the "supercomputer" you use to watch youtube.

    Oh yeah, no, your data is all going to Apple.
  • dubyadubya - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    I'll switch to an iPhone when Apple lets me operate my phone my way and has the apps I need/want on their products. And the big one let me access the data on my phone without needing to install iTunes!

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