In a press release made today, Qualcomm introduced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC, the company’s flagship chip that will be included in many next Android smartphones. The addition of compatibility for Wi-Fi 7 is a significant development since it means that, with a new router, you may have greater home wireless connectivity in addition to the typical newer, better, and hopefully faster components.
The new technology from Qualcomm is backed by some bold claims. The CPU, according to the manufacturer, “improves performance by up to 35 percent” and “has up to 40 percent more power efficiency.” So far as performance goes, the GPU “delivers up to 25 percent quicker performance, with up to 45 percent better power efficiency.”
Both of these assertions should be taken with a healthy dose of salt, as Qualcomm’s boasts of a 20% CPU boost from last year never made it into actual shipping smartphones. Even if Qualcomm achieves these performance goals, it will lag behind Apple‘s iPhone by nearly a year. The company hopes that the (now legally encumbered) acquisition of Nuvia will improve its lackluster performance, but the necessary chips are still in development. For now, let’s get back to fundamentals.
Unique in its design, this Arm-made 4 nm chip packs four separate central processing unit (CPU) cores. Arm’s recommended configuration is three Cortex A710 CPUs for “medium” duty and four A510 CPUs for low-power background processing; the primary core is a 3.2 GHz Arm Cortex X3, which is good and expected.
However, Qualcomm’s implementation deviates from the specified architecture in that it uses two separate cores for “medium” workloads (after the Cortex X3): a pair of Cortex-A715 CPUs and a pair of Cortex-A710 CPUs. After then, only three of the predicted four Cortex A510 CPUs are actually doing any work in the background.
Qualcomm likely included two A710s for the sake of 32-bit compatibility. Since Arm’s proposed core configuration for this generation consists of a slew of 64-bit-only processors, 32-bit software will be incompatible. For the vast majority of people, this isn’t an issue because the Pixel 7 has already been released as the first Android phone that is unable to run 32-bit apps (the full OS isn’t entirely 64-bit-only yet).
Since 2019, 64-bit binaries are required for submission to the Google Play Store, and you likely wouldn’t even notice the absence of 32-bit support. China, however, lacks a Google Play Store, and the country’s anarchic environment has delayed the elimination of 32-bit compatibility.
Although the Pixel 7 is expected to ship with 64-bit libraries, it is unclear if Google is prepared to fully support them. Qualcomm is able to keep 32-bit support going for another year thanks to a strategy of mixing and matching with older cores.
Qualcomm claims that the new Wi-Fi 7 support will allow for speeds up to 5.8Gbps, but the real benefit will be increased spectrum sharing with your neighbors. It’s easy to clog the airwaves and slow down everyone’s Wi-Fi connection in a densely populated apartment building with multiple access points. Wi-Fi 7 is similar to Wi-Fi 6e in that it expands the available spectrum by including an extra spectrum block for your devices to use.
However, there is a catch: you need a Wi-Fi 7 access point in order to enjoy these advantages, and at the moment, those are in short supply. A new TP-Link device is expected in the first quarter of 2023. Even though Samsung (with AMD’s help) and Arm’s Immortalis GPU had hardware ray-tracing support before Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 now has this capability as well.
My guess is that ray tracing is still a ways off from being implemented in any serious mobile software. The first Snapdragon chip to support the royalty-free AV1 video codec, which is backed by a bevy of tech giants including Amazon, Apple, Arm, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Nvidia, and Samsung.
Netflix and YouTube are putting all of their eggs in the AV1 basket by requiring manufacturers to license their services to implement support for the AV1 codec. We expect this to be the SoC for most flagship smartphones in 2023, but Qualcomm claims that some partners will have devices available by the end of this year.