Qualcomm today finds itself in the peculiar position of announcing a high-end processor that is heavily reliant on the technology of a team that is demanding it.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 system-on-chip features eight cores out of the box from Arm, which is locked in a bitter legal fight with Qualcomm over licenses and contracts.
Qualcomm routinely designs chips that feature Arm-based technology, and is set to continue to do so, so the use of Arm architecture in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC is expected. Qualcomm chipsets, including its series Snapdragon, are used in a wide range of Android phones and tablets, Windows on Arm laptops, and other devices.
What is extraordinary here is that Qualcomm, at its Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii, is telling the world that it is still a force to be reckoned with in the mobile world, while its relationship with one of its key technology providers, namely , Softbank’s Arm, hits the rocks. . Arm provides the application CPU cores that run people’s applications, drivers, and operating systems. Qualcomm is also no stranger to litigation, particularly over patents.
As we previously reported, Qualcomm bought a startup called Nuvia last year for $1.4 billion. Nuvia was designing its own custom server chips using Arm-licensed CPU technology and architecture. When Qualcomm, already an Arm licensee for its Snapdragon series, absorbed Nuvia’s Arm-derived designs, apparently with the intention of using these blueprints for future data center or personal computing products, Arm defendant Qualcomm.
Arm claimed that due to the license agreement with Nuvia, Qualcomm had to ask Arm for permission to transfer the acquired technology. Qualcomm shot back with various wild claims, mainly that no such permission was needed and that Arm was doing this so they could force Qualcomm to pay much more in royalties and other fees to use Nuvia designs.
Due to the amount of time it takes to develop a system-on-chip, it’s unlikely that the Nuvia designs, obtained by Qualcomm in 2021, would have made it to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. However, Arm previously demanded Qualcomm destroy its copies. of Nuvia. Qualcomm said it had blueprints, though Arm believes the designs will surface at some point, hence his lawsuit.
So what’s under the hood of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2?
As the name suggests, it is a continuation of the Gen 1 which was Announced at this time last year. That first generation used a cluster of eight CPU cores, with a single high-performance Arm Cortex-X2 core running at up to 3GHz, three Cortex-A710 “performance” cores clocked at a maximum frequency of 2.5GHz, and then four low-power 1.8GHz Cortex-A510 cores for background applications and everyday activities. It was fabricated on a 4nm Samsung process node.
Then there was the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, Announced in May of this year, with a slightly faster 3.2GHz Cortex-X2, three 2.8GHz A710s, and four 2GHz A510s. It also had a slightly faster GPU and used the 4nm node from TSMC, instead of Samsung, to achieve higher speeds and energy efficiency.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is more of the same and demonstrates just how married Qualcomm is to Arm and its standard cores: the system-on-chip uses a single 3.2GHz Arm Cortex-X3 for high-performance needs, two Arms for mid-performance . 2.8GHz Cortex-A715 cores, two other 2.8GHz A710 performance cores, and three 2GHz upgraded Cortex-A510 efficiency cores. That’s eight cores in total using a 4nm TSMC process node , with 8 MB L3 cache.
64-bit only Armv9 Cortex-X3 was made public by Arm in June alongside the 64-bit-only A715, which is a step up from an A710. The updated A510 has the option to support 32-bit code, just like the A710 does with 32-bit, which is useful for devices that need to maintain that support. So Gen 2 mainly brings, in terms of compute, one more performance core and one less efficiency core, and an improved Cortex-X series.
What all of this means for people is what appears to be a faster high-end processor for Android phones, tablets and other mobile devices, arriving by the end of 2022. Brands expected to use the chip include Asus, Sony, Honor, Xiaomi, ZTE, Oppo, OnePlus and Sharp.
According to Qualcomm, the central CPU cluster “improves performance by up to 35 percent, while the new microarchitecture enables up to 40 percent more energy efficiency,” compared to the 8 Gen 1. This will be more or less from Arm’s ramp-ups to his Cortex cores and the use of TSMC’s node.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 comes with more than just Arm CPU cores, as Qualcomm has to add its own technology to differentiate its chipsets from rivals that also use Arm architectures and intellectual property. This is why the compute core cluster is little more than a bullet point on the 8 Gen 2 system-on-chip spec sheet, so Qualcomm can focus on the things it added.
This includes an AI acceleration engine that we’re told is up to 4.35 times faster than the previous generation and with a 60 percent increase in performance per watt. This unit can be used to speed up on-device machine learning tasks such as object and speech recognition, and language translation and transcription. The dual-processor engine can handle INT4 precision for AI models that don’t need a lot of precision but need to do it fast on battery power, according to Qualcomm.
This AI acceleration extends to imaging by capturing parts of the system-on-chip, allowing the processor and its software stack to identify hair, clothing, backgrounds, and the like in images from a device’s camera and optimize the appearance of those sections of the image. The SoC supports up to 200MP image capture and 8K HDR video capture in 10-bit HDR, depending on the specifications.
The chip includes a Snapdragon X70 5G modem and RF electronics, a step up from the X65 5G in Gen 1 and 8+ Gen 1. The modem supports a Dual-SIM Dual-Active (DSDA) 5G mode for simultaneous use of 5G SIM cards. +5G or 5G+4G, depending on the specifications, and covers mmWave and sub-6 GHz. There is also artificial intelligence, Qualcomm claims, infused into the modem to improve its wireless bandwidth and latency and other performance points.
There’s also Wi-Fi 7 connectivity that can transfer data over the air at up to 5.8 Gbps, depending on your settings. Wi-Fi 7 isn’t expected to be used in any significant way by people until next year until 2024, mind you, since routers and other hardware aren’t generally available yet.
Qualcomm also says its chip can provide low-latency Bluetooth audio streaming (less than 48ms latency) for those who notice the lag between what’s on the screen and what’s in their ears. The facial recognition system for unlocking devices has been improved, we’re told, and can tell the difference between a live user and (say) someone showing a photo of them to gain access.
On the graphics side, the Adreno GPU is supposed to be “up to 25 percent faster in performance, with up to 45 percent more power efficient” compared to the previous generation. It is also compatible with Vulkan 1.3 APIs. Support for hardware-accelerated real-time ray tracing makes the chip ideal for playing games on the mobile device, Qualcomm says. The chip designer was very interested in talking about how well his silicon works with titles built using the Unreal 5 engine.
The entire chip can drive up to 16 GB of LP-DDR5x RAM clocked at up to 4200 MHz. Qualcomm declined to share its TDP or battery life predictions. There are many other bits and pieces, like improved audio, to be announced. here This day.
As we said, Gen 2 is a continuation of Gen 1, and may illustrate why Qualcomm was interested in getting its hands on Nuvia’s blueprints for its own chips to further differentiate its processors from other Arm licensees. Qualcomm has designed its own custom and semi-custom Arm cores in the past, and of late it’s using the standard parts. Qualcomm may be happy with the latest Arm cores, a situation Arm might want to exploit financially. ®
Full disclosure: Qualcomm paid for this correspondent’s flights and accommodations to cover the Snapdragon Summit in Maui, Hawaii today, although as should be abundantly clear from our past, current and future coverage, this will have no effect on our independent reporting.