Qualcomm announces two new SoCs, the Snapdragon 810 and 808

Six cores or eight, all of ARM design under the lid

Qualcomm Snapdragon logoQualcomm is announcing two new chips with lots of promise but little detail, so say hi to the ARM A57 cored Snapdragon 810 and 808. Using a vanilla ARM core instead of a bespoke Qualcomm design may seem odd but SemiAccurate feels that there are enough in-house goodies on both devices to make up the difference.

The headline news is of course that there are two new 20nm SoCs, the big 8-core Snapdragon 810 and the smaller but not small 6-core Snapdragon 808 code-named 8994 and 8992 respectively. The main difference between the two SoCs are the CPUs, four ARM A57s in the 810, two in the 808. Both have four A53s for the little in a big.little configuration. The 810 silicon looks like this, but not to scale, along with the expected support silicon.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 block diagram

The new 810 and its support chips. Note the blocks are NOT to scale

Qualcomm went to great lengths to say that the use of the vanilla ARM cores in both parts are not a sign of anything right or wrong with their internal 64-bit V8 compatible core. That core is coming but when and in what guise was not said. The 810 and 808 are here now, the yet unnamed Qualcomm 64-bit core is not so move along nothing to see here. SemiAccurate’s moles have confirmed this lack of greater meaning, these two are basically a stopgap part while the 64-bit internal core is undergoing the old final buff and polish.

Both of the new bouncing baby SoCs have an integrated LTE-Advanced Cat6/7 modem and identical external support chips as pictured above. For those of you not familiar with LTE minutia, Cat7 is Cat6 with 100Mbps uplink speeds. This is a bit academic because it isn’t deployed anywhere yet, but if you buy an 810 or 808 you will be futureproof.

As you would expect from a high-end Qualcomm device these two parts have just about everything you can think of for connectivity. Cat6/7 can do three carrier 20Mhz aggregation needed to hit the 300Mhz downlink speeds plus all the older protocols you would expect. The RF front end is now all Qualcomm RF360 but OEMs can pick their own if they want. Both chips also support TD-SCDMA to open up the Chinese market, headline grabbing tiffs aside. Last up is the QCA6174A Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 companion chip we mentioned Friday, so 802.11AC and MU-MIMO is in there, or out there via a PCIe link as the case may be.

Probably the next most important bit is the GPUs and here the differences start to appear. Both use the new 400-series cores with th 810 sporting an Adreno 430 and the 808 an Adreno 418. For reference the new Snapdragon 805 has a 420. What is the difference between them? No clue, other than OpenGL ES 3.1, OpenCl 1.2 Full, and an inbuilt DRM infection no details were given.

When talking about their approach to SoC design, Qualcomm’s Murthy Renduchintala said that their devices are defined by the screen sizes they support. That makes a lot of sense because pixel pushing requirements drive memory and storage bandwidths, radios need to feed the box, and decoders have a fixed maximum target. Power management and energy use is also relative to these numbers, it is no real use to support a feature if it means a 20-minute battery life.

With that in mind the display controller on the 810 will support two 4K displays but only at 30Hz while the 808 is meant for 2560/4MP primary displays. 3:1 pixel compression is new to this pair, older SoCs have had similar technologies but were not nearly as advanced. Feeding this level of pixel pushing needs bandwidth so the 810 has two channels of LPDDR4@1600MHz. 808 has much lower screens size support so it only gets LPDDR3@933MHz, both two channels and a maximum of 4GB DRAM.

Similarly the ISP in the 810 is massively upgraded to support 14-bit internal data widths, the 808 only gets 12-bits like the 805. There are two in the 810 and they run at 600MHz for a total of 1.2GP/S while supporting image sensors up to 55MP, all through a tiny plastic lens if normal OEM cost containment holds to past form. The presentation on the 808 wasn’t clear about the ISP count nor was a clock specified, but it does get the same unspecified image quality enhancements of the 810. If you are worried by this, don’t be, the 808 should be more than enough to push any phone or tablet sensor on the market for a long time to come.

On the video side the 810 is once again out in the lead with a full H.265 4K hardware encoder and decoder, the 808 only gets the decoder. That said the 808 has more than enough CPU and DSP power to do the job, just not at the same power levels. Unfortunately both will only do 30fps but that is still better than 1080p.

Those are the specs we know but lets ponder for a second why Qualcomm would put out a stopgap part with a vanilla ARM V8 core or eight. As we mentioned earlier they are not giving up on their in-house cores nor does this mean the 64-bit Krait successor is having problems. SoCs of this complexity have to be started years in advance, it isn’t a snap(dragon) decision as some would lead you to believe.

SemiAccurate would be quite surprised if this wasn’t just a scheduling problem, a core takes X months to design and if there is a need for a 64-bit core in less than X months, you can’t use the in-house one. Qualcomm made the decision that a vanilla ARM core is more useful than a bump to their 32/36-bit designs and it is hard to fault that logic. Basically the A57/A53 combo was better than a Krait revision.

Don’t however take this to mean it is an off the shelf ARM POP design or a generic core. Qualcomm did do the layout themselves and optimized all the cells, libraries, and even the big.little software for their own particular needs. Where some take what ARM or the foundry gives them and play Lego to minimize time to market, Qualcomm looks to have put a lot more effort in. Given their past history with CPU and SoC design we wouldn’t be surprised to see this core do a lot better than its ostensible siblings. That said we won’t know for a while because this core isn’t due to be released until 2Q after the 805.

In the end the Snapdragon 810 and 808 are likely to redefine the high-end of the ARM SoC space for a while. The cores may be vanilla in name but are a lot more than that under the hood, even with the constraints Qualcomm is under using the A57/A53s. On the radio side it doesn’t look like anything will come close but what did you expect? On paper the GPU looks good too but the rest the numbers and real details that make all the difference were not disclosed. Until then we won’t say that this chip is a winner, but so far it does look really good.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate