Qualcomm have endured a difficult twelve months. The current flagship System-on-Chip, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, caught headlines with rumors that the chipset overheated and this is one of the reasons why Samsung switched to an internal chipset for the flagship Samsung Galaxy S6 device. We’ve seen the Snapdragon 810 used in a number of devices and in many of these, the chip does appear to run warm. To be technical, the handset chassis is unable to remove the heat that the Snapdragon 810 produces, which is not necessarily a fault of the chipset but of the handset manufacturer for either not designing the chassis to cope with the heat, or the software engineers for allowing the chipset to run at high temperatures. Putting aside stories of the Snapdragon 810 overheating, a few days ago rumors started circulating that the up and coming flagship System-on-Chip, the Snapdragon 820, was suffering from similar issues. The story concerned how Samsung were seeking to redress the Snapdragon 820 and install a heat pipe into the Galaxy S7, but it was noted that Samsung were desperate to use the 820 into their next generation handset.
It’s important that we take these rumors with more than a grain of salt. Firstly, these rumors originated from South Korea, where there are many pro-Samsung industry commentators. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the Snapdragon 820 is not yet used in production handsets and is still undergoing the extended testing period that all chipsets go through before being released into the wild. It is highly likely that the retail Snapdragon 820s will be modified from the current, pre-production chips regardless of their heat output. And finally, the stories, rumors and media hype generated by the overheating chipset has dogged Qualcomm for most of 2015 and the company will be sure to avoid a repeat as we go into 2016. Given the performance and power consumption of today’s mobile System-on-Chips, installing a dedicated means of keeping the chips cool is perfectly sensible. It’s something we’ve seen OnePlus do with the Two device: as we work processors hard, so they convert electrical energy into heat. Some smartphone designs use the battery as a heat sink; smartphone engineers either count on a smartphone’s processing load being “bursty,” that is, brief moments of working the processor hard followed by long periods of the processor being idle.
Today, Qualcomm China announced on Weibo that there were no issues with the Snapdragon 820’s heat output. We know that the 820 will be built on a 14nm processor size and will consist of a quad core cluster of Qualcomm’s customized Kyro application cores, including dedicated technologies designed to utilise the processor’s functionality in a smart, energy-efficient (and so therefore power efficient) way. However, regardless of any war of words to and from Qualcomm and other industry commentators, until devices start shipping with the new chipset, we will have to wait and see to understand how the System-on-Chip performs right across the board. That Samsung are keen to use the Snapdragon 820 despite their own leading Exynos 7420 chipset shows how fickle the semiconductor and mobile chipset industry is.