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Inside Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 820

Dec 15, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 233 views

Qualcomm announced its Snapdragon 820 system-on-chip in November with a promise that more than 60 phones and tablets will ship with it in 2016.

With the Snapdragon 820, Qualcomm is hoping to rebound from the somewhat troubled Snapdragon 810. The 810 suffered from overheating, forcing phone manufacturers to throttle down the speed. Qualcomm released a revision that reduced the problem, but many vendors had already moved on.

While the Snapdragon 810 is an octa-core SoC, with four Cortex-A57 and four Cortex-A53 cores, the Snapdragon 820 is a quad-core SoC. It’s a much faster, more power efficient architecture, however.

Snapdragon 820 functions
(click image to enlarge)

Instead of using a licensed ARM CPU design, this one is based on homegrown cores, such as the Qualcomm-designed Krait cores of many previous Snapdragons. In this case, the Kyro cores roughly mimic the 64-bit, ARMv8 Cortex-A72 design, and are fabricated with a cutting-edge 14nm FinFET process, compared to 20nm for the 810.

The Kryo CPU block offers up to twice performance and twice the power efficiency of the Cortex-A57 based Snapdragon 810, claims Qualcomm. Two of the cores are clocked at 2.2GHz, while the other two are clocked to 1.6GHz. Preliminary reports suggest that the 810’s thermal problems have been solved here, possibly in part by settling on a quad- rather than an octa-core design.

AnandTech benchmarks released on Dec. 10 using Intrinsyc’s new smartphone MDP do not show a doubling of performance. However, they do reveal impressive gains, suggesting the 820 trails only the Apple A8 on the iPhone 6S.

The Snapdragon 820 also includes upgrades to Qualcomm’s 624MHz Adreno GPU and other Qualcomm media coprocessors. The new Adreno 530 GPU delivers up to 40 percent improvement in graphics over the previous Adreno 430, claims Qualcomm. (AnandTech found a still impressive 30 percent improvement.)

There’s also an upgraded Hexagon 680 DSP and a new 14-bit Spectra image signal processor (ISP), which can capture images at up to 25 megapixels with zero shutter lag. The Spectra ISP supports “superior DSLR-quality photography and enhanced computer vision,” says Intrinsyc.

The Snapdragon 820 is available with a more advanced Qualcomm X12 LTE chip that supports faster Cat 12/13 speeds of up to 600Mbps down and 150Mbps up. Peak downloads are claimed to be 33 percent faster than the 810’s X10 LTE chip, and peak upload speeds are tripled. The 820 is also claimed to be the first commercial mobile SoC to support LTE-U, enabling access to LTE connections in unlicensed, as well as licensed spectrum. Intrinsyc does not appear to support the X12 in its kits, however.

The Snapdragon 820 supports a faster Qualcomm VIVE 802.11ac WiFi chip with Qualcomm 2×2 MU-MIMO technology. It also supports the even faster, tri-band, multi-gigabit 802.11ad (WiGig). Intrinsyc supports the latter only on the tablet MDP.

Further details

More information may be found on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 product page.

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