Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Shows Its Stuff

on December 15, 2014

In developing the Snapdragon 810 application processor (AP), Qualcomm incorporated several new features and capabilities, a tricky move for such a complex device and one loaded with potential problems. Some thought they couldn’t do it.

Nevertheless, not only is the 810 on track as promised for mid-2015 device deliveries, it has several “firsts” associated with the new chip:

• It is Qualcomm’s first 20nm SoC (being fabed at TSMC)
• It’s the first hexa core, 64 bit ARMv8 CPUs (four A57 @ ~2GHz, and four A53 @ 1.55GHz) for Qualcomm
• It’s the first SoC with dual 14-bit Image Signal Processors (ISPs)
• The 810 introduces the new Adreno 430 GPU
• It has the first dual channel 1600 MHz LLPDDR4 memory implementation in the industry
• It’s the first hardware implementation of 4K (3840 x 2160) HEVC/H.265 video encode
• It’s the first implementation of UFS 2.0 storage support
• It’s Qualcomm’s first WCD9330 analog CODEC
• It’s the industry’s first multi-channel 4G LTE category 9 Carrier Aggregation Connectivity

Although it is Qualcomm’s (QTI) first 64-bit hexa-core CPU, it uses the ARMv8-Cortex A57/A53 core. In the past, QTI has designed its own ARM-ISA CPU, the Krait. The Cortex big.LITTLE CPU however, has been available for licensing for a while and used by several other SoC suppliers, therefore it does not represent much risk for Qualcomm.

However, a report in Business Korea last week said the chip “overheats when it reaches a specific voltage,” and “slows down owing to problems with the RAM controller connected to the AP” (the story was echoed by a European web site and, like so many rumors, took on a life of its own, much to the delight of short sellers). However, it’s just not true.

The 810, which I got to play with last night in various form factors (tablets and phones), has the industry’s first LPDDR4 memory and controller, and is running at 1600 MHz (yes, in a mobile device). At that clock speed, it’s impressive because it is delivering a total bandwidth of 25.6GB/s (it is 2×32-bit channels—64 bits). That kind of memory performance is what’s needed to deliver high performance video processing, fast Open CL performance, and high level graphics performance. Obviously something so critical to the success of the chip wouldn’t be left to chance.

QTI introduced the Adreno 430 GPU in the 810 and it offers support for OpenGL ES 3.1, hardware tessellation, geometry shaders and programmable blending. It has frame buffer compression and can drive an external 4K display at 30 fps or 1080p video at 120 fps via HDMI 1.4. The company claims the 430 deliver up 30% faster graphics performance and 100% faster GP-compute performance over the predecessor Adreno GPU (420), while reducing power consumption by up to 20%. Qualcomm has also incorporated a new level of GPU security for composition and management of premium video and other multimedia. These claims are not surprising. QTI has been the leading supplier of GPUs for several years, offering great performance while using little power, and selling more GPUs than any other company.

The Adreno 430 will be featured in top commercially available games like Activision’s popular “Skylanders Trap Team”, running on a 4K display. At the Qualcomm user experience media event in New York, Qualcomm showed the Epic Unreal 4 game engine running high end graphics content on Snapdragon 810’s 64bit ARMv8 CPUs.

QTI has always been good at video; however, the 810 has an upgraded camera suite with gyro-stabilization and 3D noise reduction. In the previous AP (the 805), you could capture 12-bit 4k video, but not directly drive a 4k screen. In the 810, there are dual 14-bit ISPs capable of supporting 1.2GP/s throughput and image sensors up to 55MP.

There is a lot of I/O: HDMI 1.4, USB 3.0, UFS Gear2, eMMC 5.0, and SD 3.0 (UHS-1). Naturally, there’s great radio with 802.11AC, and the company’s 4th Generation Cat6 LTE with support for Qualcomm’s RF360 front end solution, and 3x20MHz carrier aggregation, enabling speeds of up to 300 Mbps, as well as Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, and the latest Qualcomm IZat location core for ubiquitous location services.

The Snapdragon 808 is a dual core Cortex A57, with an Adreno 418 GPU. The company says it offers up to 20% faster graphics performance than its predecessor, the Adreno 330 GPU. It’s been designed to support up to WQXGA (2560×1600) displays, and has a new level of GPU security. The 808 has dual 12-bit ISPs and uses LPDDR3 memory. It too can drive a 4k screen (via DMI 1.4).

In April, QTC said they would have 810 units in the hands of their partners by the end of the year, and devices would show up in mid-2015. QTC reports everything with Snapdragon 810 remains on track and we expect commercial devices to be available in 1H 2015.

As reported in their year end report 5 November, Qualcomm shipped 861 MSM chips in their Fiscal 2014 year (ending 28 September 2014).