Today, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC, the company’s flagship chip that will be coming to many Android phones in the coming months. In addition to the usual newer, better, and hopefully faster cores, the big news is the addition of Wi-Fi 7 support, so you can get a better home wireless connection if you invest in a new router.
Qualcomm has some claims about this new chip. The company says the CPU “improves performance by up to 35 percent” and has “up to 40 percent more power efficiency.” The GPU is said to “deliver up to 25 percent faster performance with up to 45 percent better energy efficiency.” Take both of these claims with a grain of salt, as Qualcomm promised a 20 percent CPU improvement last year that never materialized in terms of product delivery. Even if Qualcomm were to deliver on those performance promises, it would still be about a year behind the iPhone. The company is trying to do something about its lack of competition with the (now legally embattled) acquisition of Nuvia, but those chips aren’t ready yet.
Let’s start with the basics. This is a 4nm chip with an unusual layout that has four different CPU cores, all designed by Arm. The main core is a 3.2GHz Arm Cortex X3 – which is all good and expected, and from here Arm’s recommended layout is three Cortex A710 CPUs for “medium” workloads and four A510 CPUs for low-power background processing. However, Qualcomm does not follow the recommended layout, and after the Cortex X3, it has two different cores that do “medium” work: a pair of Cortex-A715 CPUs and a pair of the latest generation Cortex-A710 CPUs. Then there are just three — not the expected four — Cortex A510 CPUs doing the background work.
The reason Qualcomm threw in the A710 is probably 32-bit support. Arm’s recommended kernel layout for this new generation is a 64-bit chipset only, meaning no 32-bit apps will be able to run. That’s not a problem for most of the world — the Pixel 7 already ships as the world’s first Android phone that can’t run 32-bit apps (the entire operating system isn’t 64-bit-only yet). The Google Play Store has required 64-bit binaries since 2019, and today you’ll never notice the lack of 32-bit support. However, China does not have a Google Play Store, and the free service available there means that 32-bit support is not being dropped so quickly. It’s also unclear whether Google is ready for full 64-bit support, as the Pixel 7 is reportedly still being delivered with some 32-bit libraries. Mixing and matching with older cores allows Qualcomm to maintain 32-bit support for another year.
Qualcomm promises a maximum Wi-Fi speed of 5.8 Gbps with the new Wi-Fi 7 support, but the big payoff is even more spectrum to share with your neighbors. When you’re in a crowded apartment building with lots of access points, it’s easy to congest your airways and everyone’s Wi-Fi works poorly. Like Wi-Fi 6e, Wi-Fi 7 adds an extra block of spectrum that your devices can choose from to help out in crowded areas. The problem is that you need a Wi-Fi 7 access point to see these benefits, and there aren’t many options right now. TP Link recently promised devices in the first quarter of 2023.
Qualcomm was already outdone by Samsung’s hardware ray tracing support (with AMD’s help) and Arm’s Immortalis GPU, but now the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 can also produce excellent lighting effects. I don’t think there is any serious mobile software for ray tracing yet.
This is the first Snapdragon chip to include support for AV1, a royalty-free video codec supported by a huge list of heavyweights including Amazon, Apple, Arm, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Nvidia and Samsung. . Netflix and YouTube have fully committed to AV1, making codec support mandatory for hardware manufacturers looking to license these services.
We’ll see it as the SoC for most 2023 flagship smartphones, but Qualcomm says some partners will have the devices before the end of the year.