The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820: everything we know and what we expect
Thus, at this point in mobile computing history, the usual question that arises when approaching an up and coming Qualcomm high-end processor — something to the tune of "How much of a beast is this thing going to be?" — is now precluded by a more pressing question. Something to the tune of "is the SD820 going to be another disappointment like the Snapdragon 810?"
While it's too early to be specific about that, the Snapdragon 820 is definitely due for having an early look at. This is Qualcomm's next generation premium tier SoC (system on a chip) platform. It's designed on a current FinFET process node and is built upon a custom 64-bit CPU architecture named Kryo.
The importance of custom cores
For example, Qualcomm managed to achieve Cortex-A15 class performance with its Krait 400 cores, but avoided the A15's thermal dissipation and power consumption problems which, if you may remember, led the Nvidia Tegra 4 to its demise. And farther back in time (think 2009), Qcom's custom Scorpion cores successfully one-upped Nvidia and Texas Instruments' competing "stock ARM" chipsets by introducing asymmetric use and pushing the Cortex-A8 architecture to its power and performance limits.
Thus, the announcement of Qualcomm's new Kryo microarchitecture, which will debut inside the Snapdragon 820, has gotten semiconductor enthusiasts frenzied. Expectations are at an all time high, because the chipmaker isn't just faced with continuing its successful legacy, it also needs to say sorry for the Snapdragon 810, which failed to deliver on the usual high expectations. And frankly, the technological industry knows no better excuse than coming up with an awesome product. It means the manufacturer listened and put in genuine efforts to improve its output.
Of course, Qualcomm wheeling out the Kryo architecture in the coming months has much less to do with emotional pursuits than it has to do with the company following its established roadmap. Kryo simply wasn't ready for the Snapdragon 810, but device vendors wanted high-end 64-bit silicone ASAP. It was an "oblige, or lose business" situation, and Qualcomm had to oblige.
But now, the time for Kryo has come. Unfortunately, the successor to Krait has not been properly profiled as of now, but we do know that the architecture allows for a maximum clock speed of 3GHz per core, which is Qcom's biggest CPU speed achievement thus far. Of course, maximum clock speed can only be achieved in short performance bursts, but a 3GHz burst is still a 3GHz burst.
Other functionality in the SD 820's "I can do it!" package includes 60FPS 4K video decoding, 30FPS 4K video encoding, LPDDR4 RAM support (up to 2.1GHz), up to 28MP camera sensor support, and LTE Cat. 10 connectivity (450Mbps DL, 100Mbps UL speeds). There's also the Adreno 530 GPU keeping the CPU company. Alas, Qualcomm has made a name for refusing to discuss GPU technology details, so there's nothing we can tell you about it, other than "this is Qualcomm's fastest GPU ever!" and that it runs at 650MHz. We also know we should expect at least a 40% performance improvement and 30% improved power efficiency over the older Adreno 430 chip.
With the multi-core test, the Snapdragon 820's score of 4970 topped the 4424 scored by its predecessor, but failed to top the 5284 tallied by the Exynos 7420.
As you can see, the SD 820's performance edge isn't mindblowing, but the CPU's single core performance already surpasses the fastest chips on the market, which are already excessively speedy. Paired with what's likely a monster of a GPU, and very fast RAM memory, the Snapdragon 820 has all the makings of a benchmark buster. Hopefully, thermal throttling won't get the best of the chip this time.
Assuming the SD 820 is in its early testing stages, this means that first devices sporting the new chipset will come around at the very end of the year, or possibly later, in the first quarter of 2016. The way things seem now, some manufacturers may use the last months of 2015 to announce their Snapdragon 820-running hero devices, then release them to the masses early next year. So far, it seems Xiaomi is the one that's most intent on starting early, as rumors claim that it's looking to announce its SD 820-powered Xiaomi Mi5 (or is it the Mi5 Plus?) flagship in October.
However, the Chinese upstart is no stranger to prolonging the actual release of its smartphones, seeing that it announced the Mi Note Pro in January this year, then released it in May, a whopping four months later. So, by all accounts, it seems we won't be holding any Snapdragon 820 devices in our hands in 2015, unless something completely unexpected happens.
All things considered, it seems Qualcomm is on the right track with its premium-tier chip. Hopefully, the promising chipset won't let us down!