The first in-depth breakdown of the upcoming Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 reveals a chip that may see up to a 50-percent performance and battery life jump in some areas over its predecessor. The boost in raw power is great news, but the added efficiency and what that could mean for battery life is arguably more exciting.
The new chipset employs a novel take on the usual BIG.little concept in that one of its eight cores is clocked far higher than the others and features double the application-crunching L2 cache of the next-smallest core set. This exceedingly powerful core, however, draws less power than a single high-powered core on the current Snapdragon 845 platform, adding up to leaps in raw compute power and power efficiency that both hover around 50-percent on average.
Background: Before going any further, it's worth laying out all of the caveats with this detailed look. For starters, this all comes from the Snapdragon 855 development platform, which has higher base power consumption on idle than a commercial smartphone would. All of the results also come from benchmarks rather than any kind of real-world workload. Finally, all of the benchmarks are performed without regard to any additional apps, heavy skins, or other tweaks that manufacturers may apply to their Snapdragon laptops, Android phones, or any other gadgets.
All of that said, SPECInt2006, an industry-standard benchmark for raw power and energy efficiency used quite heavily by processor makers and device manufacturers churns out an interesting result. Across two different benchmarks, the 855 beats the 845 by around 40-percent on performance and about 45-percent on battery life.
This test is one of the widest, speaking to scope and scale, and sees the 855 leave every other chip in the dust, save for Apple's A11 Monsoon and A12 Vortex chips. The closest competitor on the Android side of things is Huawei's new Kirin 980 chip, which is generally edged out by a small margin. This makes sense, seeing as the Kirin 980 and Snapdragon 855 both use cores based on ARM's newest Cortex-A76 design. Qualcomm's cores are clocked just a bit higher.
Impact: A jump in benchmark performance akin to the aforementioned one doesn't necessary equate to a similar jump in real-world performance for commercial devices, for various reasons. Improvements in power efficiency, however, aren't affected quite as profoundly. While a performance jump has a lot of hoops to leap through before it translates in real-world speed in commercial devices, power efficiency boosts are a lot simpler to bring to end users. The Snapdragon 855 uses somewhere around two-thirds the power of a Snapdragon 845 under the exact same load, period.
What this means is that you can expect a jump in battery life that reflects that figure pretty readily. With few exceptions, a Snapdragon 845 flagship that gets 6 hours of screen-on time with a single charge will likely have a Snapdragon 855-based sequel that gets close to 9 hours, and so on.
The only thing to keep in mind is that software load is likely to get higher. Manufacturers will want to do more with these more powerful chips, and app makers and web developers will probably follow suit. Even so, it's not unthinkable to see a net increase in battery life over the years. A laptop back in 2006 was a very basic device that could be lauded for lasting 3 or 4 hours on a charge, but that same figure is anemic by today's standards, where some of the longest-lived laptops in the biz can approach 16 hours on a single charge. The same will likely happen with smartphones, given due time for the medium to mature.