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Snapdragon 865 Dis-Integrates

December 24, 2019

Author: Linley Gwennap

The 5G transition has forced a difficult decision on smartphone SoC designers. Combining a leading-edge 5G modem with all the other new features that customers want in a flagship phone yields a design that’s too big to economically fit on a single 7nm chip. Thus, Qualcomm adopted a new partitioning for the Snapdragon 865. Unlike its past several flagship processors, the SoC doesn’t integrate a cellular modem. Taking a further step, it integrates neither Wi-Fi nor any other wireless functions—a complete design requires both an external modem chip and an external Wi-Fi combo chip, adding cost.

Compared with the predecessor Snapdragon 855, the new flagship doubles AI performance and ISP performance while providing generous gains in other areas. It employs the latest Cortex-A77 CPU, which offers 20% more performance per clock than Cortex-A76, according to Arm. Qualcomm says the custom Adreno 650 GPU raises graphics performance by 25%. Most of the AI-performance boost comes from quadrupling the size of the tensor accelerator that the 855 generation introduced. The new chip is the company’s first to adopt LPDDR5 memory, increasing DRAM bandwidth by 30% while improving power efficiency. It’s also the first that can capture 8K video.

Qualcomm pairs the 865 with the Snapdragon X55 modem chip, which handles up to 5Gbps for sub-6GHz 5G and up to 7.5Gbps for millimeter wave (mmWave). Most 5G phones introduced in 2019 employ the X50 modem; the X55 is the company’s second-generation 5G product, building on proven technology. Qualcomm doesn’t support the 865 with any other modem, but 4G-only flagship phones can omit the 5G RF subsystem. The company offers a Wi-Fi combo chip for the 865, but the SoC also works with third-party combo chips.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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