It was recently, covered at length about how Qualcomm has behaved regarding the Snapdragon 810 and the alleged overheating issues that the processor has experienced. It was also covered how early software appeared to cause pre-production devices to run especially hot whereas subsequent software updates have reduced temperatures by lowering the 810’s clock speed and switching away from the high power ARM Cortex-A57 cores to the higher efficiency, cooler A53 processor cores. However, it needs to be said that the Snapdragon 810 is just one processor in a long line and it’s important that we look forward to what’s coming as well as trying not to frown with the chipset being put into flagship devices today. And now today we have a rumor of the specification of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, which in the source document is being compared with the new ten core MediaTek Helio X20 processor.
Let’s take a look at the new Snapdragon 820’s purported specifications. The first thing to realize is that the 820 is based around Qualcomm’s new generation custom processor core, called Kyro. Kyro is the spiritual successor to the previous custom core, called Krait, which itself was based on a former high-end ARM reference core design, the Cortex-A15. This core represents Qualcomm’s take on how a high-performance ARM application processor core (the A72) may be better optimized for devices, whereas the Snapdragon 810 is based on ARM’s reference processor cores. And the first thing to note about the 820 is that the processor is built on a 14nm die size, the same as the Samsung Exynos 7420 processor, as used in the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. The smaller the die size, the smaller the chip and the lower the voltage needed to drive it. This is important because heat production and power consumption is proportional to the square of voltage applied, so a relatively small reduction in voltage may result in a meaningful reduction in power consumption. A smaller processor also means there’s more space inside the chassis for other components and because there’s less distance for the electrons to travel, theoretically results in a faster processor too.
The Snapdragon 820 is also a return to a quad core processor for a high-end Qualcomm System-on-Chip as it’s based on two pairs of dual core processor cores. One pair may be clocked up to 2.2 GHz and the lower performance, higher efficiency pair may be clocked up to 1.7 GHz, both described as Kyro cores. However, whilst both processors are from the same family, where one processor core has a different clock speed compared with another, this usually means that it is built using a slightly different construction method and so is more or less efficient compared with the other, depending on the clock speed and workload. In other words, just because the slower processor core can be clocked at 1.7 GHz, doesn’t mean that under normal conditions it will be. Other details concerning the Snapdragon 820 include support for high performance DDR4 RAM, Category 10 4G LTE (at up to 450 Mbps download speed) and support for a huge range of wireless standards from around the world. It has powerful GPU capabilities thanks to the 650 MHz Adreno 530 GPU chipset including the ability handle 4K displays and video playback at this resolution at 60fps.
Comparing the new Snapdragon 820 with the announced MediaTek Helio X20 is a little unfair, because the MediaTek uses an existing architecture (although uses a different processor cluster structure). It’s fair to note that in many respects, the Snapdragon 820 looks to be the better processor compared with the Helio. However, simply comparing specifications of chipsets is somewhat meaningless as we need to see both processors in action. Qualcomm are planning to get the Snapdragon 820 available in sampling quantities by the second half of 2015.