Qualcomm’s New Snapdragon 888 Will Power Flagship Android Phones in 2021

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Most of the premium Android phones that launch in 2021 will have the latest Snapdragon 888 inside. Qualcomm teased the name of the chip at its Snapdragon Summit yesterday, and now we have all the details. The 888 comes with a new CPU design, integrated 5G, and a massive GPU boost. It’s shaping up to be the most significant update to Qualcomm’s flagship system-on-a-chip (SoC) in years. 

Last year, Qualcomm introduced us to the “Prime Core” in the Snapdragon 865. This CPU core is clocked higher than all the others, providing faster single-threaded performance. This year, the 888 has a “Supercore” at 2.84GHz, which is based on the brand new ARM Cortex-X1 reference design — Qualcomm’s customized version is called the Kryo 680. The 888 is still an octa-core chip, so there are three more fast CPU cores, but these are based on the new Cortex-A78 design. The four efficiency cores are still the same A55 design. Qualcomm claims a 25 percent power increase and 25 percent better efficiency compared to the Snapdragon 865. 

The GPU gets an even bigger boost this year — Qualcomm says the new Adreno 660 is 35 percent faster with 20 percent greater efficiency. Qualcomm’s Adreno GPUs are something of a black box, and it doesn’t talk specifics. There are a couple of new GPU features, for example, variable-rate shading (VRS) that can boost frame rates on high-end games. 

Qualcomm is also pushing hard with new AI features in the Hexagon 780 DSP (digital signal processor). The tensor, vector, and scalar compute units are now a single piece of interlinked silicon. It’s a complete ground-up redesign for the AI components that bumps scalar execution 50 percent and doubles tensor performance. Overall AI processing is three times more efficient with the Snapdragon 888, Qualcomm claims. 

The Spectra 580 ISP has a new triple concurrency design. Not only can you switch between multiple camera modules instantly, but the SD888 can also record from three sensors at the same time. This opens the door for OEMs to come up with new camera features and modes. Qualcomm illustrated this by suggesting 4K video capture from three sensors simultaneously. 

Possibly the most important real-world change is the inclusion of the updated X60 cellular modem. Unlike the X55 in the Snapdragon 865, the X60 is actually on-die as part o the SoC package. That means higher efficiency than the two-component design from last year. The X60 is also the first Qualcomm modem to support sub-6GHz 5G carrier aggregation. That means it will be able to combine the signals from several 5G bands to boost speed and reliability. This is one of the features that has made LTE so much faster in recent years. However, it doesn’t work with millimeter-wave 5G, which is fine because you’re not likely to see much of that even after almost two years of deployments. 

The first Snapdragon 888 smartphones will launch in early 2021. One of the first will most likely be the Samsung Galaxy S21.

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