Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Unleashed: A Brawny AI-Infused CPU For 2019 Flagship 5G Phones

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Yesterday in Maui, Qualcomm provided a few brief details on its upcoming Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform SoC. The Snapdragon 855 will be powering the majority of 2019's Android flagship phones and will pair with Qualcomm's first-generation Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem and the company's all-new 3D Sonic Sensor under-the-display fingerprint reader. 

Today, Qualcomm is spilling nearly all the beans with respect to its new high-end SoC, and it's quite impressive. As previously rumored, the Snapdragon 855's Kryo 485 processor retains the octa-core hierarchy, but its makeup has changed. This time around, there is a single high-performance "prime" core that can be clocked up to 2.84GHz. This is coupled with three performance cores that can be clocked up to 2.42GHz. Finally, there are four efficiency cores with a maximum clock speed of 1.8GHz.

When all is said and done, Qualcomm says that the Kryo 485 provides a 45 percent uplift in performance versus its predecessor. In addition, an all-new Adreno 640 GPU ratchets up performance by 20 percent while supporting Vulkan 1.1, HDR and physically-based rendering (PBR).

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Qualcomm manages to pack quite a bit into its first production 7nm chip, including an integrated Snapdragon X24 2Gbps LTE modem. Also onboard for the ride is Wi-Fi 6 support (802.11ax), while 10Gbps 802.11ay Wi-Fi is also supported. 

But what everyone will be talking about is the optional 5G support made possible but the Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem. The Snapdragon X50 supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz bands while offering up to a 20x improvement in performance versus exiting 4G LTE solutions. Given that none of us has tested 5G in real-world situations at this point -- and that these claims are likely based on lab testing -- we'll reserve judgement on actual performance once 5G networks are fully operational with 5G hardware in-hand.

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), the Snapdragon 855 offers up a fourth-generation AI engine that triples performance (7 TOPs) compared to the unit on the preceding Snapdragon 845. There's a Hexagon 690 processor with a built-in Hexagon Tensor Accelerator, and the Adreno GPU is capable of augmenting AI acceleration. 

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Given how important photography is with today's smartphones, Qualcomm would be remiss if it didn't make advances in this area. Luckily, the new Spectra 380 ISP takes computational photography to the next level with and implements hardware accelerated computer vision. It also supports recorded video in HDR10+ along with hardware accelerated HEIF encoding for a 50 percent file size savings.

One aspect of the Snapdragon 855 that Qualcomm is specifically calling attention to is the Snapdragon Elite Gaming experience. This represents a collection of features/technologies include HDR, PBR, Vulkan 1.1, reduced latency while gaming afforded by 802.11ay along with Qualcomm aptX Adaptive audio and Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus support.

We can expect to see the first smartphones shipping with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 during the first half of 2019.