Thinking About Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 (Premium)

Last week, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 845, the chipset that will power most of next year's flagship smartphones and other mobile devices. Here's a quick peek at what we have to look forward to.

As you may know, Brad and I were in Hawaii last week to attend Qualcomm's annual Snapdragon Tech Summit. And in addition to the Snapdragon 845, the firm also made a variety of other announcements, including formally launching Windows 10 on Snapdragon and the first ARM-based Windows 10 PCs. Both of us wrote a lot about those initiatives last week. Here, I'd like to focus on the Snapdragon 845.

As you probably know, Qualcomm's current high-end mobile chipset, the Snapdragon 835, powers most of the currently available flagship smartphones. The only major exceptions are the iPhone, which utilize Apple's A-series (but also ARM-based) chipsets. And the Samsung Exynos chipsets, which power Galaxy smartphones in certain markets. (Samsung uses Snapdragon 835 for the Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note8 in the US and elsewhere, however.)

But the reach of the Snapdragon 835 may surprise you: Qualcomm told me last week that this most popular of mobile chipsets has been made available on over 120 different hardware designs. And it has literally transformed how we think of the modern smartphone.

This takes a number of forms. But the big milestone, from my perspective, is that the 835 was the first chipset, mobile or otherwise, to bring both CPU and GPU to a 10 nm process on a single SoC (system on a chip). As Qualcomm describes it, this milestone was an "inflection point of scale", with the right performance, thermals, and battery life to drive a new generation of devices and, as important, device types.

We saw the first hint at this future on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, which can drive a desktop display, keyboard, and mouse using a small hardware peripheral, DeX, in a way that very closely resembles Continuum from the now-defunt Windows Mobile. Not surprisingly, with the Snapdragon 835, Qualcomm's designs were, for the first time, being compared with Intel desktop chips. Sometimes fairly, sometimes not.

This comparison reaches its logical conclusion, as it were, with the new generation of coming Always Connected PCs. Here, we will see designs based on both Qualcomm (Snapdragon 835) and Intel (Core i-series), each with embedded SIM (e-SIM) support. The Intel versions will offer better performance. And the Qualcomm versions will offer better battery life and standby.

But mobile chipsets like those made by Qualcomm are quite different, architecturally, from those made by Intel and other x86 processor makers. I'm not a hardware guy, as you know, but one of the things that sticks out to me, immediately, is the way that these chips utilize multiple cores. Where there is no real difference between the processor cores in any given Intel chip, Snapdragon supports separate and multiple performance and efficiency cores, and they provide different perfor...

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