Can the Snapdragon 810 Deliver On the Hype?
LG just took the wraps off of it newest flagship device, the LG G Flex 2, proudly featuring Qualcomm’s newest SOC, the Snapdragon 810. After rather modest improvements on the Snapdragon 801 from last year, many people hoped for a larger increase in performance, battery life and overall feature set. Now that the first mainstream device hits the masses, let’s take a look at what could make the 810 so much better than previous devices, but more importantly, also the potential deal breakers and bottlenecks OEMs like to implement.
First, let’s recap what the Snapdragon 810 is all about (including some features from older 8xx models):
- New core layout: Quad-core ARM® Cortex™ A57 and quad-core A53 with 64-bit support instead of four Krait cores
- Manufactured on a 20nm process instead of the older 28nm HPM process (better power efficiency)
- New Qualcomm® Adreno™ 430 GPU (30% better performance, 20% less power usage than last generation)
- Support for eMMC 5.0
- Native USB 3.0 controller
- LPDDR4 RAM @1600Mhz support
- CAT 6 LTE with support for 3x20Mhz carrier aggregation
These look like pretty impressive improvements over last year’s Snapdragon 801, however, the SOC alone is not enough to take advantage of all these features. Let’s take a look at a couple of key points and why they might not matter much for your next 810 powered device.
The ever-increasing GPU power
Pretty much every new SOC generation brings an improved GPU with it. The manufacturers always claim an improved performance by a few percentage points and it certainly sounds nice to have such numbers at hand. But in reality, what do these numbers really mean? Right now we are at the verge of turning to a new display resolution standard with the wider adoption of WQHD displays. Although the new displays might look even crisper and sharper, there’s also a performance penalty that comes with the increased resolution.
Compared to older FHD screens, WQHD has ~78% more pixels, and all of those have to be handled by the GPU. So the question now is, do we really get 30% more performance from the new generation? Or do we actually need the increase to be able to properly render on the newer screens? Of course there are more benefits to the Adreno™ 430 than just raw power (such as a decreased power consumption), but this point is definitely something to think about.
eMMC 5 and its adoption in actual devices
Ever since the original Snapdragon 800 series supported eMMC 5.0, and therefore, in theory, much faster flash storage, users were looking for devices which make good use of the newly gained support. In the recent years we have seen quite a few devices that lost a lot of attraction due to their slow flash chips (for example the Asus TF201 or the original Nexus 7). While these may be extreme examples on the lower end of the scale, there really haven’t been any stand out devices with high-end flash chips that can match the capabilities of the SOC. In theory speeds of up to 400 MB/s are supported.
When did you see speeds like that the last time on your phone? You probably didn’t at all. That’s because OEMs opt instead to use cheaper but significantly slower flash storage in order to keep the costs down. While almost half a GB/s might sound not really useful for mobile device, using slow storage brings up more issues with other parts of the hardware.
The dreaded USB 2.0 interface
While Samsung started to use the Micro USB 3 interface fairly soon in its flagship devices, there has been no widespread acceptance from other OEMs so far. The majority of devices still use the 15-year-old USB 2.0 standard for transferring data from connected computers. Considering that most devices still use slow storage the question is if we really need a fast connection between our mobile devices and computers. After all, if the flash chip can’t keep up with the USB 3 connection then why do we need the faster standard anyway?
Super high-speed LTE capabilities and the reality of slow networks
The Snapdragon 810 supports CAT 6 LTE with speeds of up to 300 Mb/s (almost 40 MB/s) in supported networks via carrier aggregation. Obviously everyone wants faster network connections, but do we really need this technology yet? How can we use such high speeds when the flash storage isn’t fast enough to catch up? How long can you stream a high quality 4K movie at these speeds until your “flatrate” has reached its high-speed data limit? And most importantly, will your carrier even allow you to use such high speeds?
64-bit Support and the reality in the Android landscape
While we have already seen SOCs that support 64-bit, the 810 is the first high-end Qualcomm chip which can take advantage of the 64-bit architecture. People usually praise 64-bit support as the holy grail of performance increases. While not entirely true, it’s not false either, but it’s quite a bit more complicated. The great thing about the Snapdragon 810 is not the ability to handle 64-bit numbers but instead the move ARMv7 to ARMv8.
Easily put, this means that we are getting a refined set of instructions, where deprecated ones are removed and new ones are added (for example for better security). Additionally the registers inside the chip, where commonly used instructions and data are stored, have been increased by roughly a factor of two. As a result, the CPU will spend less time fetching data from the device’s RAM (which is super fast, but still a lot slower than the CPU’s registers).
The often touted 64-bit compatibility in itself doesn’t mean much at this point. It mostly provides the ability to reference more than 4GB RAM per app. Did you ever run an app on your phone that used more than that? Probably not yet. The future might bring apps that can use such high amounts of memory (think of heavy video editing or 3D-modelling), but today it’s pretty irrelevant.
Wrapping things up, at this point we can’t really say whether or not the new Snapdragon 810 devices will feature a huge increase in performance and efficiency, but we can certainly say that Qualcomm used all its resources to deliver a great new SOC, waiting to be used by OEMs and accompanied by matching components for the rest of the device. Let us know your thoughts on the new SoC and which device you’re hoping to see it in via the comments below.