Qualcomm’s new system-on-chip (SoC), Snapdragon 820, has come out with a few technical details, and it’s already making waves with its impressive GPU features and a powerful camera engine. At the same time, however, a couple of industry bytes have clouded the Snapdragon 820 launch fanfare.
First, Apple’s new iPhone, expected to be launched in September 2015, will be using Intel’s LTE modem chips in some product versions instead of Qualcomm’s Gobi modem platform. Second, Samsung, which has just launched Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+, is using its in-house baseband chips based on CEVA DSP cores.
Snapdragon 820 marks another generation leap in SoC technology
Now both Apple and Samsung have their own application processors, and they are replacing Qualcomm’s baseband chips in some of their smartphone models. Another top-tier smartphone maker, Huawei, is also developing in-house application processor and baseband chips through its chip unit HiSilicon.
Then, there is Asustek, a rising smartphone star with ZenFone handsets, and it’s using Intel’s mobile SoC solutions both for application processor and baseband. Other notable handsets makers like Motorola and Xiaomi also seem inclined toward MediaTek for more cost-effective solutions.
That’s the challenging backdrop in which Snapdragon 820 is going to enter the mobile market. Some of the challenges are technical, for instance, the heat-related issues that mired its predecessor Snapdragon 810. But other challenges are based on pure market dynamics regardless of how good the chip is. Nevertheless, Snapdragon 820 comes with some notable hooks that might be especially attractive to mid-range smartphones.
GPU Plus Image Processing Angle
So far, Qualcomm has provided only a few details about the new chip, and they mostly relate to imaging and video features. For instance, Qualcomm claims that the Adreno 530 GPU is 40 percent faster than its Adreno 430 GPU predecessor in terms of graphics benchmarks. Qualcomm’s next-generation Adreno GPU also consumes 40 percent less power. Moreover, the Standalone GPU power manager feature lets the graphics power to be turned on and off more quickly, which significantly improve power savings when GPU is idle.
On the camera side, Qualcomm has brought forth the 14-bit Spectra image signal processor that supports three cameras at a time and claims to offer DSLR-like quality photography. Snapdragon 820 can handle one 25-megapixel camera or two 12- megapixel image sensors that can be used as depth sensing cameras.
Snapdragon 820: An attempt at bringing intensive graphics processing to mobile
That’s a major shift in smartphone camera landscape where lens and image sensors have so far been the main criteria. Qualcomm has raised the bar in image processing in a quest to take the smartphone camera envy to the next-generation applications such as object recognition and virtual reality and enable them with a low-power footprint.
The powerful combination of Adreno 530 GPU and Spectra camera engine is clearly aiming at boosting the user experience for computational photography, computer vision and virtual reality. The GPU-plus-image processor angle also marks a crossroads for the SoC devices that have mostly been focusing on the CPU might and number of cores.
According to industry reports, Snapdragon will have a new 64-bit quad-core CPU called Kryo that is custom designed and is based on the ARMv8; though the San Diego, California–based chipmaker hasn’t provided any details on the CPU side. Moreover, the Snapdragon 820 chipset is going to be built on Samsung’s 14nm FinFET process and is expected to be available in the first half of 2016.
Majeed Ahmad is author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future.