Qualcomm lifts the veil on the Snapdragon 845 SoC


— 4:12 PM on December 6, 2017

Qualcomm just lifted the veil on its newest mobile device SoC, the Snapdragon 845. The company's previous-generation Snapdragon 835 is used in pretty much every high-end handset that runs Android, and Qualcomm's building on that chip's success. Compared to its predecessor, the Snapdragon 845 includes an improved Kryo 385 CPU, a new whiz-bang Spectra 280 image signal processor (ISP), and a more powerful Adreno 630 GPU—all along with a host of minor improvements.

The start of the show is probably that Spectra 280 ISP. According to Qualcomm, the new image processor is capable of handling 4K capture with HDR. Both the HDR10 and HLG standards are supported. The ISP's image stabilization and noise-reduction features work across multiple frames, too, making for some impressive results. In a nod toward Instagram stars everywhere, the Spectra 280 can natively generate cinegraphs (or animated GIFs in modern parlance) and has a "bokeh" portrait mode that can do its thing with a single camera. Last but not least, those attending F1 races can grab a slow-mo clip of a passing Red Bull car at 480 FPS.

All the above capabilities are great for getting pixels into the phone, but what about displaying them? That's where the Adreno 630 GPU comes in. Qualcomm didn't go too deep into the silicon's capabilities, but did let on that users should see 30% better performance and a 30% reduction in power consumption compared to the previous-gen Adreno. Since VR is actually becoming A Thing, the Adreno 630 can track hands and controllers in meatspace in full six-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) with SLAM. Likewise, foveated rendering capability makes an appearance. We're all big fans of high-refresh-rate displays around here, and it's good to see that the Adreno 630 can output graphics at a resolution of "2K x 2K" at 120 Hz.

The ISP and GPU would be useless, however, without the newfangled Kryo 385 CPU. Like the Kryo 280 before it, the 385 is an octa-core jobbie with four cores tuned for performance and another four tweaked towards power efficiency. The "big" cores in the Kryo 385 can hit 2.8 GHz, and Qualcomm says they should offer a 25%-to-30% boost compared to their predecessors. Meanwhile, the "small" units clock at up to 1.8 GHz and should be 15% faster than before. The company didn't specify whether these gains were per-core or aggregate, though. This time around, each core has its own L2 private cache, and there's 2 MB of L3 cache on top.

The company also made a lot of noise about the Hexagon 685 DSP's "3x better AI performance," a statement that we take to mean that the new SoC's neural network hardware is multiple times faster than before. Qualcomm didn't offer many details beyond that, though XDA has an in-depth article detailing its machine learning capabilities.

The improvements onboard the Snapdragon 845 aren't all about bit and core counts. The new SoC supports 802.11ad millimeter-wave Wi-Fi that should be capable of reaching multi-gigabit speeds. Qualcomm says that regular-flavor 802.11ac Wi-Fi should see improved bandwidth and connection speed, too. When talking to the outside world, the Snapdragon 845's X20 modem can use Category 18 LTE, enabling download speads up to 1.2 GHz and 4x4 MIMO on up to three carriers. In the past, Qualcomm put its modems separate from its SoCs, but the company's apparently integrated both devices in the same package now. The proprietary Quick Charge 4.0 tech also makes an appearance and promises to charge attached batteries up to 50% in only 15 minutes.

Despite the improvements, the Snapdragon is still manufactured on the same Samsung 10-nm LPP as its predecessor. By our reckoning, the newcomer will doubtlessly power scores of high-end Android devices in the coming year. Both LG and Xiaomi are reportedly working on handsets with the new chip. Likewise, we wouldn't surprised to see the chip inside thin-and-light notebooks similar to the recently-released Asus NovaGo and HP Envy x2.

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