In December, Qualcomm introduced its next flagship platform, Snapdragon 855. It will not only appear on dozens of smartphones in 2019 and will become the most mass-on-chip system used inexpensive devices, but also launch the 5G era. We conducted the first tests of the platform – and tell you what it is in?
On the last Qualcomm flagship platform, Snapdragon 845, more than 160 different smartphones were built – a similar fate awaits Snapdragon 855, which comes to replace it. Therefore, speaking of the performance of the Snapdragon 855, we are automatically talking about the performance of many future flagships. Yes, a variety of factors will interfere with the conversation – from the amount of RAM to the quality of the cooling system and software optimization. But the picture will not drastically differ – testing an engineering sample of a smartphone, a kind of “blank” to demonstrate the capabilities of the platform, allows us to fairly accurately assess what we will be dealing with throughout the year.
First, it’s worth to say again about what Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 is. This is the first Qualcomm system using 7-nm process technology – the American company joined Apple, Huawei, AMD and NVIDIA in this race. Almost all the largest manufacturers of processors (including graphics) have already switched to this process technology. Intel, catch up. However, Intel has its own factories and its own way.
Snapdragon 855, like its predecessor, carries eight cores but distributed no longer in the big. The LITTLE scheme, but in the original Prime Core scenario – with one high-performance Kryo 485 core with a clock frequency of 2.84 GHz, three Kryo 485 operating on frequency up to 2.42 GHz, and four “youngest” frequency up to 1.8 GHz. This allows you to count on a more flexible distribution of loads and, as a consequence, better energy efficiency. In theory – in practice, we have not yet had the opportunity to measure this parameter; we are talking here exclusively about performance.
And here Qualcomm boasts a gain of 45% on the main cores, as well as a gain of 20% on the new graphics coprocessor Adreno 640, the clock frequency of which the manufacturer currently does not disclose. However, the clock frequency here is not as important as the significantly increased number of ALUs, which in theory can lead to an even greater gain in 3D applications. The Vulkan 1.1 graphics API is supported, information can be output to the integrated display with a resolution of up to 4K with 10-bit color or to two external monitors with the same parameters.
The situation with the support of neural network computing looks very funny. Huawei with its HiSilicon Kirin 970 set the fashion for the AI competition – despite the fact that, in essence, the machine learning technology was supported before that (using the power of the graphics cores), it was the dedicated Huawei “AI module” that started talking about their counterparts. Apple has it, and Qualcomm has, as it turns out now, the fourth generation of the AI acceleration engine!
In fact, everyone is right in this situation – Snapdragon has never had a de-jure special AI-module and is not there now. For calculations related to the use of neural networks, a DSP processor (the latest generation – Hexagon 960) is used in conjunction with the main cores and the graphics subsystem.
About Hexagon 960 I must say a few words separately. It now supports not only vector (strongly accelerated) and scalar (INT8 and INT16) calculations, but also “block” tensor, about which we have never talked about earlier in relation to mobile platforms. Due to this, machine learning programmers working with Snapdragon 855-based systems open up very wide opportunities and also increase system performance — up to 7 trillion operations per second, which is three times more than Snapdragon 845. The platform works with all common currently AI frameworks: from TensorFlow and Pytorch to Chainer and Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit (CNTK). But to talk about the categorical superiority of the Qualcomm platform over competitors in this area, of course, it is too early.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 has a new 4G modem, the Snapdragon X24 LTE, supports Wi-Fi 6 standards (802.11ax-ready, 802.11ac Wave 2, 802.11a / b / g / n), significantly improved the performance of the Specter signal coprocessor family leads to the possibility of native 4K shooting with HDR and 10-bit color at up to 60 frames per second), audio capabilities have been improved, hardware support for ultrasound scanners of prints has appeared, and so on.
Here we are talking first and foremost about performance. But – it is necessary to mention this in a separate paragraph – Snapdragon X50 5G-modem is not included in the platform. In each smartphone, designed to work with 5G-networks, – Qualcomm claims that there will be more than 30 in 2019, – it is installed separately. The company will come to the inclusion of a new-generation modem in a single-chip platform later – when it becomes more reasonable from a commercial point of view (the modem is not cheap and will be of little use in practice since the networks are at the initial stage of deployment).
So, performance and benchmarks. The engineering smartphone itself doesn’t give an idea of what the smartphones will be this year – everything will be clearly more elaborate than the usual two-chamber device even without a “monobrow” and with 6 GB of RAM on board (here, by the way, the Snapdragon 855 doesn’t change in comparison with the 845th – works with the same LPDDR4x at a frequency of up to 2133 MHz; the maximum available capacity is 16 GB). But the screen is approximately 6-inch and with a resolution of 2880 × 1440. At the same time, I am absolutely sure that Full HD-screens will still be on a significant part of smartphones with Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 on board.
The set of benchmarks provided for testing was fixed, without the ability to download additional programs — the Play Market was simply disabled on the phone. Nevertheless, it almost completely intersected with our standard package – only 3D Mark did not enter it.
The “king” of all mobile synthetic tests, the Antutu 7.1.1 integrated benchmark, showed the greatest performance gains, which is what Qualcomm says. Somewhere 361-362 thousand points against 290-300 thousand on the platform of the previous generation. It also confidently surpasses the new Snapdragon and Apple A12 Bionic, not to mention the current Kirin and Exynos.
But in Geekbench 4, sharpened specifically for testing the CPU without working with the graphics subsystem, there is no advantage over the Apple platform, although the gain relative to the Snapdragon 845 is tangible. The same is signaled by the Webxprt 2015 browser “processor” test. Pay special attention to the outstanding results of a separate core compared to A12 Bionic cores.
But the figures obtained in the graphical test GFX Bench, should not be misleading – here is a higher resolution relative to the main competitors. However, a significant advantage in terms of graphics Snapdragon 855, according to this benchmark, does not hold, keeping more or less at last year’s level.
I also measured the performance of the platform with the Octane 2.0, Jetstream 1.1 and Speedometer tests. We do not have a base for these tests, but the results are before your eyes – you can compare them with what your smartphone is capable of.
We have never tested the performance of smartphones when working with neural networks with the help of specialized benchmarks because of the limited information that they provide – the networks that run synthetic tests do not allow us to see the full picture of working with all machine learning. And in addition, very quickly become obsolete. Nevertheless, now there is a benchmark, which at least temporarily makes sense to adopt, – Ludashi AI Mark performs calculations in three very common networks at once: InceptionV3, Resnet34, and the authors of the tests loved by the VGG16. The resulting three digits already have weight, as well as the total derivative.
The test results of Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 can be called expected – there has not been some kind of a breakthrough in performance, this is an evolutionary system in this regard. At the same time, against the background of competitors and predecessors, it looks confident – somewhere with a slight superiority, and somewhere with a very tangible one. Despite the fact that not a single flagship platform of 2018 suffers from a lack of performance, you can quite confidently count on the Snapdragon 855 with a few years ahead.
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