Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit Roundup: Snapdragon 845, Spectra 280 ISP, Hexagon 685 DSP, and More
The newest flagship in Qualcomm’s system-on-chip (SoC) lineup, the Snapdragon 845, was announced on Wednesday at the chipmaker’s Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii. But that wasn’t the conference’s only highlight. Missed this week’s coverage? Don’t fret — we’ve summarized all of Qualcomm’s biggest announcements, including the Hexagon 685 DSP, the Adreno 630, and the Spectra 280 ISP.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
|Specs||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835|
|Chipset||845 (10nm LPP)||835 (10nm LPE)|
|CPU||4x 2.8GHz Kryo 385 (A75 “performance”), 4x 1.8GHz Kryo 385 (A55 “efficiency”)||4x 2.45GHz Kryo 280 (A73 big), 4x 1.9GHz Kryo 280 (A53 LITTLE)|
|GPU||Adreno 630 GPU||Adreno 540 GPU|
|Memory||4x 1866MHz 32-bit LPDDR4X||4x 1866MHz 32-bit LPDDR4X|
|ISP/Camera||Dual 14-bit Spectra 280 ISP __ 32MP||Dual 14-bit Spectra ISP 14-bit 32MP|
|Modem||Snapdragon X20 LTE|
(Cat 18 downlink, Cat 13 uplink)
|Snapdragon X16 LTE (Cat 16 downlink, Cat 13 uplink)|
Kryo 385 Cores
The Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm’s most powerful system-on-chip yet, is a force to be reckoned with.
It features eight semi-custom Kryo 385 cores that make use of ARM’s Built on ARM Cortex Technology license, which allowed Qualcomm to implement CPU-level tweaks exclusively in the Snapdragon 845. And it’s the first to adopt ARM’s DynamIQ big.LITTLE organization, which hosts the cores in the same cluster.
Four low-power, low-performance “efficiency” A55 cores are clocked at 1.8GHz and four high-performance A75 cores are clocked at 2.8GHz (up from the Snapdragon 835’s 2.45GHz CPU cores), and they ramp across three voltage and frequency planes. Each has a private L2 cache in addition to a shared 2MB L3 cache and 3MB system cache, which cuts down on memory bandwidth consumption by as much as 75 percent compared to earlier Snapdragon generations. They’re fabricated on Samsung Foundry’s second-generation LPP (Low Power Plus) 10nm FinFET process, which translates to substantial gains in power efficiency.
Qualcomm claims that overall, the Snapdragon 845’s four A75 cores deliver 25 – 30 percent better performance than the previous generation, and that they’re 25 – 30 percent more power efficient. And it says the A55 cores are 15 percent faster than the low-power cores in the Snapdragon 835.
Adreno 630 GPU
The Adreno 630 — the new graphics chip in the Snapdragon 845 — boasts a 30 percent decrease in power consumption, a 30 percent increase in computing power, and 2.5 times the display throughput of the Snapdragon 835’s Adreno 540. Those are serious claims, and we’ve yet to put the Adreno 630 through its paces. But from what we’ve seen so far, it’s impressive.
Adreno puts an outsized focus on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences. Qualcomm’s Adreno Foveation, a tile-based rendering technique, cuts down on processing overhead in devices with eye-tracking sensors by rendering (1) only the areas in scenes that aren’t being viewed, and that (2) lie outside the foveoa of vision. Multiview rendering, another performance-saving feature of the Adreno 630, processes the left eye buffer first, mirroring it to the right eye buffer and adjusting postion, reflections, and rendered elements as needed. And lastly, the graphics gip’s support for fine-grained preemption — an essential part of techniques like front buffer strip rendering and asynchronous time warping — improves overall latency.
The Adreno 630 also scales to a wider range of VR headset configurations than its predecessors. Qualcomm says it can drive up to two 2k displays at 120 frames per second, compared to the Adreno 540’s max of two 1.5k displays at 60 frames per second.
The Spectra 280 ISP
The Spectra 280, Qualcomm’s second-generation image signal processor, is an upgraded version of the Snapdragon 835’s Spectra 180 ISP, and its headlining feature is support for high dynamic range recording. It’s the world’s first ISP capable of capturing 4K 60-frames-per-second video in the Ultra HD Premium format, which specifies an ultra-wide color gamut and 10-bit color (also known as deep color).
Here’s what that means in plain English: UHD Premium content delivers 30 bits per pixel, which equates to 1024 shades of each primary color for a total of 1.07 billion colors, or 64 times the 16.7 million colors that the average computer monitor and television set can display. It’s noticeably more detailed than non-UHD Premium video, and all but eliminates artifacts like color banding in photos and videos.
On the color gamut side of the equation, support for UHD Premium means the Spectra can take advantage of the ITU-R Rec. 2020 color space, which covers 75.8 percent of colors visible to the human eye (CIE XYZ). The end result is a much more immersive viewing experiences on devices that can play back the Spectra 280 ISP’s HDR format.
HDR video not your style? You might appreciate the Spectra 280’s enhanced slow-motion video: It’s capable of recording 480 frames per second at 720p or 240 frames per second at 1080p.
But that’s not all that’s improved in the second-generation Spectra ISP. Qualcomm’s integrated support for multi-frame noise reduction, much like what’s seen in the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL’s HDR+ and the Xiaomi Mi Note 2‘s Handheld Twilight Mode. It’s also implemented motion compensated temporal filtering (MCTF) and improved electronic image stabilization (EIS), both of which improve overall image quality by tapping the Snapdragon 845’s heterogeneous computing capabilities.
The Spectra 280, like the Adreno 630, supports a range of AR and VR hardware. Parallax-based depth-sensing enables dual-camera devices to achieve competitive depth-sensing performance at a lower cost, according to Qualcomm, and sub-16 milliseconds of latency allows for single-frame responsiveness at a blazing 60 Hz.
In Spectra 280 isn’t just great for VR and AR. It natively supports iris scanning and depth sensing, and Qualcomm says that in the preferred configuration, it can authenticate an iris in as little as 40 milliseconds — even through sunglasses. In addition, the Spectra ISP allows devices to leverage their depth-mapping capabilities for facial scanning, but it’s up to manufacturers to implement that feature in software.
The Hexagon 685 DSP
The Hexagon 685 DSP is controlled by Qualcomm’s AI engine, the Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine, and it can handle up to thousands of bits of vector units at a time. That far surpasses the Snapdragon CPU’s capabilities, which can only reach into the hundreds, and it’s a boon for vector-based neural networks.
“Vector math is the foundation of deep learning,” Travis Lanier, Senior Director of Product Management at Qualcomm, said.
With the Hexagon 685, Qualcomm’s aiming to improve the AI capabilities of its hardware offerings. There’s plenty of competition, but the chipmaker’s aiming to offer the most robust out there.
For a more in-depth view of the Hexagon 685 DSP, check out our deep dive.
Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0
Unsurprisingly, the Snapdragon 845 supports the latest generation of Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology, Quick Charge 4.0. Devices that support it can recharge to 50 percent capacity in 15 minutes, — a 20 percent improvement in charging speed, according to Qualcomm — and 30 percent more energy-efficiently than older versions of Quick Charge. On the average smartphone, that’ll translate to five extra hours of battery life in just five minutes of recharging.
Quick Charge 4.0 is fully compatible with both the USB Type-C and USB Power Delivery standards ratified by the USB-Implementers Forum, so USB PD devices can rapidly charge using Quick Charge 4.0 cables. It also adhere’s to Google’s latest Android Compatibility Definition Document, which requires that USB Type-C devices are fully interoperable with standard Type-C chargers.
X20 LTE Modem
Devices with Snapdragon 845 won’t just blaze through games and apps at lightning speed. They’ll also benefit from super-fast internet, courtesy Qualcomm’s gigabit-enabled modem.
Qualcomm says it’ll pair the 845 with the X20, and LTE chip which delivers download speeds up to 1.2Gbps and Cat. 13 upload speeds up to 150Mbps. Technologies like 5x carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, and 12 LTE spatial steams help to cut down on wireless congestion, and the modem’s the first to support both Dual SIM Dual VoLTE (DSDV) and the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), a US-based spectrum-sharing scheme.
Secure Processing Unit
The Snapdragon 845 improves on the security of past Qualcomm system-on-chips with the Secure Processing Unit (SPU), an isolated subsytem designed to protect biometric data, payment data, and other sensitive info. Here’s how it works: When you perform some kind of action on a Snapdragon 845-based device — say, download a file or edit a document — the SPU generates a unique private key that’s required to decrypt the data.
Applications like WeChat and Facebook can use the SPU to generate their own keys, and in the future, Qualcomm Snapdragon 845-based devices to store biometric data inside the SPU, run any necessary authenticator code inside the SPU, and terminate the data within the SPU itself. The chipmaker’s presenting it as a safer alternative to secure elements like ARM’s TrustZone, which have been exploited before.
The AQT1000 DAC
Qualcomm had a bit of surprise in store at the Snapdragon Technology Summit: A dedicated Hi-Fi digital-to-analog converter called the AQT1000. It’s a compact DAC that the chipmaker plans to sell to manufacturers “for 2018 products”, and it doesn’t skimp on hardware: It supports 32-bit audio, has a dynamic range of 123 decibels, and natively supports the DSD, or direct stream digital, file format. It also plays back audio up to 384KHz.
Qualcomm’s also designed a new codec for USB Type-C headphones that cuts down on power consumption, and that supports active noise cancellation and advanced recording features.
So that’s it! Have thoughts on Qualcomm’s new products? Let us know the comments!