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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  • TheinsanegamerN - Friday, December 17, 2021 - link

    The android world doesnt need 6-10 years of support to still download and play the latest games, unlike iphones. Android 6 can play anything android 12 can.

    Now try that with iOS 9.
  • Sergio Luiz - Saturday, June 25, 2022 - link

    The problem here is that the IPhone 6s not only has the latest version of ios but all the compilers updated to run current games, see that the A9 runs the immortal Diablo in its Medias settings at 30fps, the updates survive longer for the devices, already that in each version of Apple makes improvements in the APIs of the devices, 6s will only not be compatible with ios 16 because of Metal 3 that will only be available on the A11 Bionic, but see that the 6s has not died yet because most Apps need ios 11 to run.
  • Nicon0s - Saturday, December 18, 2021 - link

    "The 6-10 years of support for iPhones more than mitigates what is at this point a very minor price difference outside of the very low end."

    LoL, 10 years of support? These same excuses are really funny.
    Phones hardly even last for 10 years, in general and after 2 years you need to change the battery especially with iphones so 5 years is the longest people keep their phones in general. And these are generally people that don't care about software updates, they don't even know what software version their phones has, they don't care what hardware their phones has and so on. The idea is that Android phones can be used for 5 years or more no problem. My A52s will get 4 years of updates but project Mainline will make it so the phone will continue to get updates well past that threshold, so I could probably keep it for as long it would last hardware wise.

    "iPhone SE is only $400 after all."

    The SE is a terrible phone in 2 very important areas: BATTERY and SCREEN.
    It's OK for phone calls and basic stuff that doesn't stress the batter but in such cases even a low end Android phone is just as good.

    "Android phones in that price range are not great performers and have at best 2 years of support typically."

    Well I payed 350 Euros, VAT included for my A52s 5G also with a free pair of Galaxy Buds2. An SE would cost me 500 Euros with VAT and I struggle to think about anything that would make it better as a phone. Other that a nicer built quality(which is irrelevant as I always uses cases with my phones) there isn't really anything relevant. Oh and the A52s has official software support for 4 years.

    "Even a used iPhone will typically have years more support than a comparably cheap new Android device, and for a non-power user that's great."

    For a non-power user that's actually irrelevant.
  • Reflex - Monday, December 20, 2021 - link

    This is silly, I mean, iPhone batteries are as good or better than their Android counterpoints in similar price ranges. And no, the SE is not a terrible phone, it's just not a power users' phone. Nothing wrong with mid-range products, and they exist in the Android ecosystem as well.

    The issue with using Android past it's support lifecycle is that it is easily compromised, I've delt with dozens of people, most often seniors, with tons of spyware on their phones due to one click sms malware or following the wrong email link. It's important to have ongoing security updates to any computing device in active use as users simplly are not a reliable source of security.
  • Nicon0s - Saturday, December 25, 2021 - link

    "This is silly, I mean, iPhone batteries are as good or better than their Android counterpoints in similar price ranges."

    SE's battery is way worse in comparison to any Android phone in it's price range. So your claim is the silly one sir.

    "And no, the SE is not a terrible phone, it's just not a power users' phone."

    I guess if you expect to be able to use your phone throughout the entire day you are a "power user".

    "Nothing wrong with mid-range products, and they exist in the Android ecosystem as well."

    It's funny how you try to defend it. I didn't say there's any problem with mid-range phones, I only said the SE is bad in 2 very important areas, which obviously you can't deny.

    "The issue with using Android past it's support lifecycle is that it is easily compromised"

    No it's not.

    "I've delt with dozens of people, most often seniors, with tons of spyware on their phones due to one click sms malware or following the wrong email link."

    Yeah, I'm sure you didn't. Realistically if you click or tap on anything every time, you can get compromised on any phone no matter the OS version. iOS for example is full of 0 day vulnerabilities, way more than Android.

    "It's important to have ongoing security updates to any computing device in active use as users simplly are not a reliable source of security"

    It is important but not life dependent, or better it doesn't make a phone unusable, useless device that will surely be compromised. I have lots of phones, some of them on older Android versions and I've never encountered a "malware" in the last 10 years. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, I should start tapping of suspicious links from unknown senders.
  • lemurbutton - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    Android phones will never have better value than iPhones unless you go into the sub $200 range. iPhones have much higher resale value. Android phone values tank fast.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    Android users dont have to have the new shiney every year, unlike iphone users, so who cares?
  • Wrs - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    For there to be a resale value there must be demand for the secondhand device or its parts. Clearly there’s huge relative demand for secondhand iPhones as compared to most Androids. Why?
  • michael2k - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    Because Apple provides updates for 6 years. Meaning a 3 year old iPhone will receive as many OS updates as a brand new 2021 Android phone.

    And from the charts, a 3 year old iPhone will perform as well as a brand new 2021 Android phone.
  • Reflex - Wednesday, December 15, 2021 - link

    It's actually closer to ten years. Apple provides six years of major OS updates, however each major OS version gets four years of security updates which is why the iPhone 6S, which is six years old but just got iOS 15, still has four more years of support left.

    Huge selling point for the people I support given their lack of interest in the latest and greatest.

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