Qualcomm just launched new Always Connected PCs with Snapdragon 835 processors, but the company isn’t resting on its laurels. It’s also announced the upcoming Snapdragon 845, and a bevy of improvements to go along with it.
The company hasn’t said much about the CPU core itself, which is almost certainly based on the same Cortex-A73 technology that Qualcomm debuted with the Snapdragon 835. While 10nm refinements and another design pass could improve clock speeds or reduce power consumption, I wouldn’t expect a huge gain in raw CPU performance.
Qualcomm is focusing on improving its video and image processing, including adding the ability to record 4K HDR footage at up to 60fps on your phone. The company also claims the Snapdragon 845 will be able to perform faster AI processing than the 835, courtesy of its Hexagon DSP. This implies the DSP has been upgraded again, though Qualcomm didn’t share specifics. While the DSP isn’t generally as sexy as other components, Qualcomm has put a fair bit of work into refining the architecture and making it more accessible to developers over the last few years.
Qualcomm will stick with 10nm for another generation, but that’s not unusual these days.
The Snapdragon 845 will support what Qualcomm calls “UltraHD Premium,” including the Rec. 2020 color space and 10-bit HDR. The Adreno 630 GPU inside the phone is similarly expected to be a modest performance boost of up to 30 percent in some cases. The Snapdragon 845 will also be paired with Qualcomm’s new Spectra 280 image signal processor (ISP), which supports depth-sensing cameras, infrared illuminators, an IR camera, and a 16-20MP camera depending on the vendor’s preferences.
The AI-AR Question
Artificial intelligence is a major media topic at the moment, even though end-user benefits are far from proven. Branding efforts have sought to cast virtually anything as AI, from a simple algorithm to predict what sorts of products you might like on an e-commerce site to scientific research into artificial consciousness. Similarly, augmented reality (AR) had a huge breakout success with games like Pokemon Go, but it’s not exactly taking over everyone’s life — at least, not yet.
The Snapdragon 845 appears to be taking a middle road on these issues. It incorporates a more powerful DSP and improved overall performance, but it also includes practical benefits, including HDR support, a better image processor, and a faster CPU and GPU. Hardware always has to lead software; you can’t write code to take advantage of a new capability in a system if that capability doesn’t exist yet. But it’ll be interesting to see if the push by many companies to include AI processing or sophisticated augmented reality technology pays off in the real world.