Today, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC, the company’s flagship chip that will be coming to many Android phones in the coming months. In addition to the usual newer, better, hopefully faster cores, a big piece of news is the addition of Wi-Fi 7 support, so you can get better wireless at home, 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 said 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 Qualcomm promised a 20 percent CPU improvement last year that never materialized in product shipments. Even if Qualcomm delivers on these performance promises, it would still be about a year behind the iPhone. The company is trying to do something about its uncompetitive performance with the (now legally encumbered) Nuvia acquisition, but those chips aren’t ready yet.
Let’s start with the basics. This is a 4 nm chip with an unusual layout with four different CPU cores, all designed by Arm. The main core is a 3.2GHz Arm Cortex X3 – that’s all good and expected, and from here the Arm recommended layout is three Cortex A710 CPUs for “medium” tasks and four A510 CPUs for low-power background processing. However, Qualcomm does not follow the recommended layout, and after the Cortex X3, it has two different cores that perform “medium” tasks: 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 working in the background.
The reason Qualcomm threw a pair of A710s into the mix is probably 32-bit support. Arm’s recommended core layout for this new generation is a bunch of 64-bit chips, which means 32-bit apps cannot run. This isn’t a problem for most of the world: the Pixel 7 has already shipped as the world’s first Android phone that can’t run 32-bit apps (the entire OS isn’t quite just 64-bit just yet). The Google Play Store has required 64-bit binaries since 2019, and today you would never notice that lack of 32-bit support. However, there is no Google Play Store for China, and because it is free there, 32-bit support has not been given up so quickly. It’s also not clear whether Google is ready for full 64-bit support, reportedly with the Pixel 7 still shipping with some 32-bit libraries. Mixing and matching with older cores will allow Qualcomm to maintain 32-bit support for another year.
Qualcomm promises a maximum Wi-Fi speed of 5.8 Gbps with the new Wi-Fi 7 support, but the big advantage is even more spectrum to share with your neighbors. When you’re in a crowded apartment building with lots of access points, it’s easy to overload the airways and make everyone’s Wi-Fi go bad. Like Wi-Fi 6e, Wi-Fi 7 adds an extra block of spectrum for your devices to choose from, which is useful in crowded areas. 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 devices in Q1 2023.
Qualcomm was already beaten with hardware ray-tracing support by Samsung (with the help of AMD) and Arm’s Immortalis GPU, but now the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 can also create some nice lighting effects. I don’t think there are any serious mobile software applications for ray tracing any more.
This is the first Snapdragon chip to support AV1, a royalty-free video codec supported by a huge list of heavy-hitters such as Amazon, Apple, Arm, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Nvidia, and Samsung. Netflix and YouTube have gone all in on AV1 by mandating support for the codec for hardware manufacturers looking to license these services.
We’ll consider this the SoC for most flagship smartphones by 2023, but Qualcomm says some partners will actually have devices before the end of the year.