Yesterday, the already customary Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit began, which, like Santa Claus, arrives in December with a bag of news. They commented yesterday on the main features of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G, their new processor for high-end 2021 mobile phones, about which we now know much more in detail today.

This year, the company’s (first) flagship SoC was presented alone, leaving us waiting to learn about the rest of the processor updates and to see those series 4 and 6 chips that are also equipped with 5G. (without knowing the date premiere). While we wait for that, we can learn more about what will be one of the most competitive alternatives in the high-end of 2020 if we follow the precedents.

As we saw yesterday, the four pillars that characterize the Snapdragon 888 and that in theory conveniently cover the processor are connectivity, artificial intelligence, gaming, and cameras. So we will go through these points one by one while we break down the components of the chip.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Specification

Manufacturing5 nanometers
CPU8 cores Kryo 680 at 2.84GHz:
1 x Cortex X1 at 2.84GHz
3 x Cortex A78 at 2.84GHz
4 x Cortex A55 at 1.8GHz
GPUAdreno 660
OpenGL 3.2
OpenCL 2.0 FP
Vulkan 1.1
DirectX 12
MemoriesUp to 16GB LPDDR5 at 3.2GHz
UFS 3.1
Connectivity5G SA / NSA MIMO 4X4 up to 7.5Gbps / 3Gbps
WiFi 6E up to 3.6Gbps
Bluetooth 5.2
Bluetooth aptX
Support for NFC
GPS, Glonass, BeiDou, Galileo, QZSS, NavIC and SBAS
Artificial intelligenceHexagon 780:
Vector eXtensionsTensor AcceleratorScalar AcceleratorSensing Hub
Photography and videoQualcomm Spectra 580
Up to 200 megapixels without zero shutter lag
Up to 84 megapixels or 64 + 25 dual megapixels
8K video at 30fps
4K HDR video at 120fps
HEIF and HEIC support
SafetyFingerprint reading
recognition Face
recognition Voice recognition
Qualcomm Mobile Secutiry
Displays4K at 60Hz / QHD + at 144Hz
HDR10 and HDR10 +
Rec. 2020
10-bit color depth
Fast chargeQuick Charge 5

The anatomy of the Snapdragon 888

The Snapdragon 888 is built in 5 nanometers due to its architecture and structure. As we previously stated, the fewer nanometers, the greater the efficiency and speed, and the lower the consumption (also the lower the volume), so there has been a race in the industry to achieve the smallest nanometers.

According to Qualcomm, the new Kryo 680 improves in power and energy efficiency over its predecessors by 25%, reaching frequencies of up to 2.84 GHz. It is the first time they have based their CPU subsystem on ARM’s Cortex X1, though as we will see, there are eight cores distributed across three clusters:

  • A 2.84 GHz Cortex X1 core and 1 MB L2 cache.
  • Three 2.4 GHz Cortex A78 cores with 512 KB of L2 cache (for each).
  • Quad 1.8 GHz Cortex A55 cores with 128 KB L2 cache (for each)

In addition, 4 MB of shared L3 cache is added and the processor also has 3 MB of cache for the system.

Another important element in the structure is the graphics, and in this case we see the new Adreno 660 GPU . The promise is 35% faster rendering than the previous generation, with 20% less power consumption, and with independent updates to the processor.

Connectivity: WiFi 6, 5G and millimeter wave

Despite the fact that we have been witnessing the implementation of 5G for years, support for this network is still something we do not see out of the box in all products, much less in smartphones. The Snapdragon 865 could already support it last year as long as the Snapdragon X50 modem was added, but this time the 5G modem is integrated and part of the Snapdragon 888, as we saw with the Snapdragon 765.

Specifically, it is the Snapdragon x60 5G modem, the third generation for the manufacturer. A modem that in turn is the first to be created with a manufacturing process also in 5 nanometers.

The Snapdragon X60 modem is built into the processor and is also manufactured in 5 nanometers

The X60 modem is compatible with 5G sub-6 networks and with the aggregation of operators in addition to the 5G mmWave (millimeter wave) networks, with which they seek that it can also be useful in the creation of private 5G networks. According to the brand, 5G private networks are a booming business, having collaborators such as Vodafone or Bosch among others, and they hope that their processor is at the height of covering everything necessary for their development.

This modem maintains compatibility with 4G networks while also adding support for 5G global multi SIM (allowing roaming), channel aggregation, and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS or dynamic spectrum sharing), which is a way to get the 5G NSA without installing new antennas by utilizing the current spectrum for 3G and 4G. The promised speed is up to 7.5 Gbps.

The Snapdragon 888 also comes with the FastConnect 6900 chip, which supports WiFi 6 and any WiFi network up to 3.6 Gbps, as well as WiFi 6E up to 6 Gbps. It also includes Bluetooth 5.2 support, which allows for a dual antenna and improves link quality (up to 9 dB), as well as Qualcomm aptX support.

Keeping the bet on artificial intelligence

How could the “heart” of the functions that have been installed on mobiles and other devices for some time not be present. The Snapdragon 888 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors with a new AI engine that includes the redesigned Hexagon 780.

READ: The Sony Xperia 10 III: Features, Reviews, and Prices.

The sixth generation of this type of processor of the brand has a performance per watt three times better than its predecessor, according to Qualcomm, reaching 26 tera operations per second (even when CPU, GPU and the Hexagon are working at the same time) and leaving the 15 TOPS of the Snapdragon 865 far behind. It is accompanied by the new Sensing Hub (it is the second generation), which integrates a low-power AI processor dedicated to tasks that may be running continuously, such as activating the screen, activity detection and audio detection.

Thus, with the new Sensing Hub, a contextual information base is created with data from various cores and networks (WiFi, Bluetooth, 5G, etc.), with which they promise that the Snapdragon 888 will be up to the demands of functions such as virtual assistants, the most demanding gaming, or cameras. Qualcomm also markets the SDK so that developers can take advantage of the potential of the Hexagon 780 and the other components, as well as providing the unified AI API for the entire platform.

On a physical level, they explain that by merging the AI accelerators, they have eliminated the distance between them and added more dedicated memory than the previous generation (16 times more). They claim to have increased the speed of work with this, achieving an improvement of 50% in power (the scalar accelerator) or twice the speed (the linear accelerator) (the tensioner).

Photography: A New Image Processor That “Is Worth Three”

In 2020, we saw 8K video begin to appear in high-end mobiles such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or the Xiaomi Mi 10T and 10T Pro, as well as 108 megapixel sensors and digital zoom of up to 120x in the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra. The demand for photographic hardware is increasing, and it is also time to evolve in the heart of photography, speaking of the SoC: the image processor or ISP ( Image Signal Processor).

With the new Spectra 580 they make the jump from double image processor to triple

The Qualcomm Spectra 580 is released in this Snapdragon 888, which according to the brand is a triple ISP capable of simultaneously processing 28 megapixel photographs from three cameras at 2.7 gigapixels per second, which roughly translates to bursts of 120 12 megapixel photos in one second. Qualcomm claims that by doing so, it achieves 35% more speed than the Snapdragon 865.

This ISP will allow you to capture three videos in 4K with HDR simultaneously , as well as photographs in HEIF format with 10-bit color depth. The new ISP promises to lay the foundations for color, contrast and detail enhancements in the computational HDR of videos.

Speaking of HDR, the new ISP adds support for the new sensors with staggered HDR ( staggered HDR ), which according to Qualcomm we will begin to see soon on mobile phones (without specifying date). Being triple the idea is that with the Spectra 580 the three HDR images (long, medium and short exposure) are processed in the time that a previous (current) sensor processes a single image.

Speaking of video playback, with the Snapdragon 888 the possibility of being able to play videos at 120 fps is enabled , taking advantage of the fact that from the Snapdragon 865 the ability to record at 4K up to 120 fps was incorporated. And as for the novelties that AI provides, Qualcomm wants to make sure that what it calls “the 3 A” (autofocus, automatic exposure and automatic white balance) are met, launching a new generation of algorithms dedicated to this.

The gaming also has its share dedicated

Video games are a very demanding software, more and more, where low latency and the highest possible sample rate matter a lot. That is, the immediacy speaking of response and connectivity. In addition, this year we have seen that the gaming mobile showcase has been particularly nurtured and the need for this latency to be low when using physical triggers as in the Black Shark 3 Pro is added.

To try to comply with these demands, Qualcomm continues to bet on its Elite Gaming, vitaminized this time to meet the demands of graphics with Game Color Plus processing, to achieve HDR with 10-bit color depth. In addition, it stands out that the new SoC supports renderings of up to 144 fps , with a performance improvement of 30% compared to its predecessor thanks to the fact that they have incorporated Variable Rate Shading, something that until now we have only seen in computers and consoles.

VRS minimizes GPU burden by allowing game creators to set rendering quality in groups of two or four pixels, allowing color integrity to be preserved while speed and quality are improved in certain areas. As they explain, the GPU normally works with each pixel, and given that a AAA game might have up to 3.6 million pixels to work with, it is a means to speed up the operation.

Qualcomm also talks about the fact that the new processor has managed to reduce latency and increase response capacity by 20% . And this is partly responsible for the Qualcomm Game Quick Touch, which as you might think from its name attends to the touch response rate. Something that we have also seen contemplated by some mobile manufacturers this year, seeing that they offer rates of up to 180 fps.

What we see in the Snapdragon 888 and the Game Quick Touch is that Qualcomm promises that the tactile response will improve 10% in games at 120fps, 15% in games at 90fps and 20% in games at 60fps . We will have to play a lot to put it to the test, of course (but we will sacrifice ourselves).

A proprietary processor for security

In the midst of working in the cloud and being extra cautious about what we do with our data and who we share it with, Qualcomm does its part to ensure that both hardware and software are secure. It’s the Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit, a security processor that functions as a watchdog for apps and services, assessing security in real time using its own software platform.

This device includes the new Type-1 Hypervisor, which is capable of segregating each app’s data and preventing data from being mixed between different user profiles and even operating systems on the same device. It also supports Truepic cryptographic encryption and complies with the Content Validity Initiative standard, ensuring the authenticity of images taken with the Spectra ISP.

Waiting to see it in action

The Snapdragon 888 takes the witness of its predecessors to be the maximum exponent of Qualcomm for high-end phones that we see this year, in the absence of knowing if there will be a “plus” evolution as we saw with the Snapdragon 865+. For now, we already know who will be the main rival of the proposals that we see from Samsung, MediaTek, and perhaps Huawei on Android, and Apple’s A Bionic.

After yesterday’s premiere, there are several brands that speak that they will be among the first to present devices with the Snapdragon 888. Xiaomi confirms that the new Xiaomi Mi 11 will be “one of the first devices to integrate the Snapdragon 888”, as Realme and OPPO have done as well, so we will see who is “the first of the first”.