Today as part of its media event, Qualcomm finally announced the much expected Snapdragon 845, successor to last year's very successful Snapdragon 835. The Snapdragon 845 is a large step in terms of SoC architectures as it's the first to employ ARM's DynamiQ CPU cluster organization. Quickly explained, DynamIQ enables the various different CPU cores within an SoC to be hosted within the same cluster and cache hierarchy, as opposed to having separate discrete clusters with no shared cache between them (with coherency instead happening over an interconnect such as ARM's CCI). This major transition is probably the largest to date that we've seen in modern mobile smartphone ARM consumer SoCs. 

Qualcomm Snapdragon Flagship SoCs 2017-2018
SoC Snapdragon 845 Snapdragon 835
CPU 4x Kryo 385 Gold (A75 derivative)
@ 2.8GHz 4x256KB L2

4x Kryo 385 Silver (A55 derivative)
@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB L2

2MB L3
4x Kryo 280 Gold (A73 derivative)
@ 2.45GHz 2MB L2

4x Kryo 280 Silver (A53 derivative)
@ 1.90GHz 1MB L2
GPU Adreno 630 Adreno 540 @ 670/710MHz
Memory 4x 16-bit CH @ 1866MHz

3MB system cache
4x 16-bit CH @ 1866MHz
ISP/Camera Dual 14-bit Spectra 280 ISP
1x 32MP or 2x 16MP
Dual 14-bit Spectra 180 ISP
1x 32MP or 2x 16MP
2160p60 10-bit H.265
2160p30 (2160p60 decode),
1080p120 H.264 & H.265
Integrated Modem Snapdragon X20 LTE
(Category 18/13)

DL = 1200Mbps
5x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

UL = 150Mbps
2x20MHz CA, 64-QAM
Snapdragon X16 LTE
(Category 16/13)

DL = 1000Mbps
3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

UL = 150Mbps
2x20MHz CA, 64-QAM
Mfc. Process 10nm LPP 10nm LPE


The Snapdragon 835's Kryo 280 performance and efficiency cores make use of ARM's Built on ARM Cortex Technology license which allows Qualcomm to make requests to ARM to change some aspects of the architectures of newly released cores and implement these changes exclusively into Snapdragon SoCs. As such the S835's CPU cores were derivatives of ARM's Cortex A73 and Cortex A53 CPU IPs. The Snapdragon 845 being the first SoC to be based on a DynamIQ big.LITTLE CPU organization also undoubtedly suggests that the Kryo 385 CPUs are based on ARM's Cortex A75 and Cortex A55 IPs, as these are the only DynamIQ compatible CPU cores available to date.

The Kryo 385 gold/performance cluster runs at up to 2.8GHz, which is a 14% frequency increase over the 2.45GHz of the Snapdragon 835's CPU core. But we also have to remember that given that the new CPU cores are likely based on A75's we should be expecting IPC gains of up to 22-34% based on use-cases, bringing the overall expected performance improvement to 39-52%. Qualcomm promises a 25-30% increase which is at the low-end of ARM's projections.

The silver/efficiency cluster is running at 1.8GHz, this is clocked slightly slower than the A53's on the Snapdragon 835 however the maximum clocks of the efficiency cluster is mainly determined by where the efficiency curve of the performance cluster intersects. Nevertheless the efficiency cores promise 15% boost in performance compared to its predecessor.

The new Snapdragon 845 now includes capacitors on its package underside

The L3 located on the DynamIQ DSU is configured at 2MB and we're likely seeing 256KB/128KB options for the performance and efficiency core private L2's. Together this would mean there's a total of 3.5MB of combined L2 and L3 cache on the CPU complex.

Qualcomm interestingly disclosed that we're only seeing three voltage and frequency planes implemented; likely meaning a single plane each for the performance cores as well as the efficiency cores as well as a plane for the L3 and DSU. This is surprising as DynamIQ allows finer grained frequency/voltage planes and given Qualcomm being traditionally a big proponent of asymmetric planes such as implemented in Krait I would have expected to see a more non-traditional approach, something that would have been facilitated given the fact that Qualcomm likes to include on-chip LDO regulators for powering the CPU clusters.

Related to the caches but not part of the CPU, there's also a new inclusion of a 3MB system cache. This is likely a SoC interconnect cache and serves all SoC blocks - likely in similar fashion the "L3" cache on Apple A-series SoCs works. This would help reduce external memory transactions and thus also reduce power to the memory controllers and DRAM. Qualcomm claims it's able to reduce memory access bandwidth by up to 40-75%, a significant figure.


The Snapdragon 845 comes with a new generation of the Adreno GPU, called the Adreno 630. The switch from a 5xx family to a 6xx family GPU, as with previous introductions from Qualcomm usually marks the transition consisting of larger architectural changes.

Qualcomm is as usual very tight-lipped about details of its GPU but it promises a performance increase of 30% while also increasing power-efficiency by 30%. What this translates to is basically we're looking at 30% higher frame-rates while maintaining the same power consumption of the Snapdragon 835, which is an excellent improvement.

DSP Upgrade to Hexagon 685

The DSP sees a evolutionary upgrade from the 682 to the 685. Again details about the improvements are relatively sparse but Qualcomm promises improvements in power and performance, especially for AI and imaging tasks. Qualcomm made an emphasis on AI processing during the presentation and claim that the new IP achieves up to 3x increase in performance compared to the Snapdragon 835.

Traditional DSP architectures are usually not well optimized for neural network processing so we'll have to adopt a wait & see approach when it comes to the performance of the new Hexagon 685 when executing such tasks. SoCs which have a dedicated NPU such as the Apple A11 or Kirin 970 still have a large edge here as they augment the image processing pipeline instead of handing such tasks over to the DSP which might have to do double duty of both image processing (such as HDR) and image analysis via neural network processing (image recognition and classification).

Snapdragon X20 Modem Now Integrated

As is traditional with Qualcomm we first see cutting-edge modem implementations first released as independent discrete modems and only afterwards do we see them integrated into the newest high-end SoCs. The Snapdragon 845 now integrated the X20 modem released earlier in the year which we've covered in a dedicated article.

The new modem elevates the LTE UE Category to 18 as it's now capable of 5xCA as opposed to 4xCA on the X16 modem integrated in the Snapdragon 835. This allows for download speeds of up to 1.2Gbps when in a 5x20MHz downstream carrier aggregation mode, that is of course, if you're lucky enough for your mobile carrier to support such configurations.

Improved Media Capabilities

The Snapdragon 845's display pipeline receives an upgrade for VR and claims to be now able to drive dual-2400x2400p120 displays for VR headsets. The video recording capabilities have been improved as the Snapdragon 845 increases maximum video encoding framerate at 4K recording from 30 to 60fps compared to the Snapdragon 835. Qualcomm advertised support for Rec.2020 wide gamut color space recording, meaning we now see full support for HDR10 HEVC recording which should be an interesting addition I'm looking forward to test.

The new Spectra 280 ISP's most standout feature seems to be multi frame noise reduction (MFNR) which is a feature that I believe is also used in Google's HDR+ proprietary processing. The feature captures multiple pictures in fast succession and applies an algorithm to apply noise reduction in higher quality fashion compared to traditional single-frame noise reduction which can introduce blurriness.

Manufactured on Second Generation 10LPP Process

The Snapdragon 845 comes manufactured on a second generation 10LPP process from Samsung. This was a natural evolution to be expected as the Snapdragon 835 was manufactured on 10LPE. Samsung promises performance increase of up to 10% at the same power levels or reduced power consumption of up to 15% at the same performance. Samsung had just announced last week the start of mass production for 10LPP. I was rather surprised to see the larger frequency boost to 2.8GHz on the performance cores as the Snapdragon 835 came with rather conservative frequencies of only 2.45. The A75 promised increased performance at the same efficiency, meaning the core uses more power to reach the higher performance point compared to the A73.

Most devices I've seen with Snapdragon 835's used about 1.1W per core at peak using the power virus-style workload we traditionally use so seeing the Snapdragon 845 using the new processor architecture as well as increases in frequency is quite surprising as both would increase the absolute power consumption of the CPUs. The two possible scenarios we're likely to encounter is that either the Snapdragon 845 CPU complex uses more power or that Samsung has managed to vastly improve its manufacturing process over the last year to allow for such gains.

"Tock" Generation For CPU and GPU

The new Snapdragon 845 brings with itself one of the biggest architectural shifts in the ARM SoC space with the first implementation of the new DynamIQ cluster hierarchy. With an expected solid 30% performance boost on both CPU and GPU we're likely to see a healthy upgrade for 2018 flagship devices. Overall the Snapdragon 845 fulfils most of its expectations and in a time in the Android ecosystem where improvements have slowed down this is a good thing. The Snapdragon 835 was an excellent SoC as it balanced performance and power perfectly and thus re-solidified Qualcomm's positioning as the go-to solution for mobile SoCs. On paper the Snapdragon 845 seems to continue this balance and if all goes as planned we're likely to see another healthy generation of devices in 2018 that we're eagerly awaiting to review.

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  • BillBear - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    It seems odd to see Qualcomm move away from a custom core. Along with Apple, they were the only other company that has historically rolled their own going way back to the Scorpion cores in 2008.
  • Raqia - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    According to thereg, this is due to the CPU team at Qualcomm being repurposed for servers in the past 3 years:

    Rumor has it that they will be back for the 855. Another interesting tidbid is that there are optimizations in the 845 for x86 emulation.

    Qualcomm did an admirable job of integration as usual. Despite the AX's SoC CPU speed advantage, they used much more die space to achieve this relative to Qualcomm and have so far never been able to fab a modem on die. Apple's vertical integration and designing out of suppliers will give them a speed win in the short term, but in the longer term they will be slower to adopt improvements from bigger shifts in industry requirements or better parts forged from satisfying the needs of multiple customers.
  • BillBear - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    Given the difference in profit margins between the server and smartphone markets, if they can only afford one high profile design team, I wouldn't expect them to move that team back to smartphone chips at all. They seem to have a credible enough version one of an ARM server chip on their hands.

    After we've seen so many nations find against Qualcomm on antitrust grounds for abusing their CDMA patents, and CDMA being in it's sunset years anyway, they are not going to need to plan for a future where their smartphone chip profit margin is greatly reduced.
  • Raqia - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    Recall that CDMA corresponds to both the legacy 2G voice standard but more generally to the code division algorithm used in 3G and 4G, and Qualcomm owns the main patents that enables these. (OFDMA is used in 4G but Qualcomm owns the patents here from its purchase of Flarion.) The voice standard is going away but Qualcomm's patents in the higher speed data standards will be relevant and enforceable for a long time.

    There's plenty of distortion of Qualcomm's licensing model from big angry plaintiffs as an undeserved cut of innovation, but due to Qualcomm's voluntary royalty cap and low absolute size, it is better interpreted as a discount for makers of cheaper phones that make less intensive use of IP. Regulators even in the EU agree with this and it's likely the model stays:
  • BillBear - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    Unlike the situation with CDMA, where Qualcomm owned the patents outright with no FRAND restrictions on licensing, LTE patents are all FRAND encumbered. Meaning Qualcomm has no choice but to license them without the sorts of shenanigans that have already landed them in antitrust hot water from so many nations, with more antitrust suits still in process. The US, for instance.

    Qualcomm has to plan for a future where they can no longer milk the golden goose that was their CDMA patents. Profit margins in the server market are much higher than those for a smartphone SOC.

    Early testing shows that their version one of a server chip is credible enough, but Intel is currently feeling threatened enough that Qualcomm really should keep their design team cranking on server chips.
  • Raqia - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    At the end of a product cycle, OEMs care a whole lot more about margins rather than licensing key technologies, enough to lie to regulators and break voluntarily signed enforceable contracts that had been in effect for years and have untold conferred billions in benefits. The current atmosphere has much more to do w/ lobbying by large OEMs than legal standing or fairness, and indeed there are strong dissenting voices in the FTC and the Taiwanese chamber of commerce over this specific matter.

    That EU statement lends regulatory credence to the general model Qualcomm and others employ, and it's not just up to the licensees to determine what's "fair" or "non-discriminatory." In an industry where misreporting is so prevalent, I don't see a problem with erring on the side of getting paid in enforcing contracts by refusing to supplying your version of the IP implementation to non-willing licensees or finding a correct range for your IP using market negotiations that may involve incentives. (You can't seem to win here as more toothless patent non-practicing holders who can only use the nuclear option of barring importation will be called trolls.) There will probably be more fines next year but the current view on this issue neglects extensive precedent and legal standing; I think the model survives along with their margins.
  • BillBear - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    The issue for Qualcomm is that their patent free ride is ending, and with that their outsized profit margins.

    Once CDMA is sunset by the carriers, we are no longer going to see the situation where, for instance, Samsung is forced to use Qualcomm's SOC in their US phones instead of simply using their own in house chips.

    Qualcomm needs to plan for the future where they will have to get by in a world where the courts will decide what constitutes a reasonable royalty on their FRAND encumbered patents, and we've already seen the courts smack down several of the tech giants in the last ten years for not being the least bit fair or reasonable in their demands.

    >According to the ruling, Microsoft will now have to pay Motorola Mobility $0.00555 for each unit it sells incorporating the H.264 standard, and $0.03471 per unit comprising IEEE 802.11 technology. Moto had originally argued for a 2.25% cut of the net selling price of the end product incorporating its SEP-protected technology. A chart from Microsoft, reproduced at AllThingsD, suggests that Moto’s original demands would have amounted to an annual payout from Microsoft of $4 billion. After Judge Robart’s ruling, Moto will be receiving a comparatively paltry $1,797,554 per year.
  • Raqia - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    Again, CDMA the voice standard is getting sunset, not 3G/4G which use in parts the same algorithm but are very different patents. Qualcomm is very much responsible for developing the 3G/4G infrastructure we all use and collects royalties from OEMs whose phones participate in the networks they enable.

    The main difference from Motorola's claim was that they only held a couple of interlacing patents in h.264 vestigial to the standard whereas Qualcomm owns the backbone. Comparisons were made to alternatives and other pools of patents using standard Georgia-Pacific criteria for valuing patents and they were deemed to be worth far less than they were attempting to charge. I believe a similar analysis on Qualcomm's patents could well place their value above what they're charging.
  • BillBear - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    Again, unlike the case with Qualcomm's CDMA patents, all of the LTE patents are FRAND encumbered. This was a requirement for any patent to be included in the LTE standard when it was created.

    If you refused to agree to license your patents to all takers on a Fair Reasonable, And Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) basis, they used somebody else's IP to create the standard instead of yours.

    Once CDMA is sunset and everyone moves to LTE, Qualcomm will no longer be in the position where they have patents that are absolutely necessary if you want a device that works on a network using Qualcomm's CDMA standard (Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular in the United States), with no FRAND restrictions on those patents.

    Between recent antitrust findings and court rulings in the past decade on FRAND encumbered patents, along with CDMA use being sunset by the carriers in the not so distant future, the golden goose is slowly waddling away.

    Which is why I say that Qualcomm needs a continued investment into a potential higher margin server chip future, because Intel is currently feeling threatened by competition for the first time in forever, and you can be sure they are no longer going to be so complacent.
  • Raqia - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    You still misunderstand, there are NO alternatives used by major carriers: Qualcomm owns the backbone of LTE patents and they will continue to have a substantial presence in 5G standards IP as well. In exchange for FRAND licensing, the industry made many methods that Qualcomm invented standards for the cellular interface with the E&M spectrum in 3G/4G LTE/5G. That FRAND licensing should take into account the economic benefit of standards was recently released as a guideline in the EU and a major point of contention by Apple. Qualcomm keeps its licensing revenue model under this.

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