Changing the Conversation with Snapdragon 820

Qualcomm’s New Chipset Raises the Bar

Qualcomm_lQualcomm’s launch of the flagship Snapdragon 820 chipset wasn’t conventional. It announced the product months earlier, and unveiled the specific components in a carefully managed program designed to detail the complexity and significance of the parts that make up the whole.

Over three months, Qualcomm revealed the Adreno 530 GPU, Spectra ISP, Hexagon 680 DSP, its Smart Protect Security technology, the Kryo CPU and, finally, the X12 modem (see Daily Insight: X12 LTE Modem Underlines Qualcomm’s Connectivity Leadership).

This underlines the significance of Snapdragon 820. The 64-bit Kryo cores are just one part of the system-on-chip (SoC), but represent a long-anticipated update to Qualcomm’s custom-designed CPU cores previously known as Krait. Every component is new or a complete redesign. Each are significant in their own right, but it’s how they function as part of the system that’s key to the value of the product, the customisation available to manufacturers, the opportunities for developers and the experiences offered to consumers.

Snapdragon 820 is a crucially important product for Qualcomm for a host of reasons, including competitive pressure, challenges with Snapdragon 810 and the growing trend for verticalization among key customers. There’s also a need to address performance-intensive categories beyond mobile in segments like robotics, TV and automotive. Qualcomm needs Snapdragon 820 to raise the bar for power efficiency, performance, connectivity and consumer experiences in mobile SoCs.

This requires more sophisticated messaging than is commonly seen in the semiconductor industry. Qualcomm must communicate how the integration and extensibility of CPU, GPU, ISP, DSP and modem delivers a superior experience.

It’s a logical but challenging ambition in a market obsessed with clock speeds and core count. Benchmarks have become largely redundant as a means for performance comparison owing to component-specific limitations. Isolated parts like the CPU or GPU can be evaluated, but this approach doesn’t account for heterogeneous systems where tasks are intelligently distributed depending on requirements and workloads, and as silicon firms, manufacturers and third-party software developers seek new ways to reduce mobile power consumption.

Samsung’s recent launch of Exynos 8 is a good example. The company has recently made great strides with its CPUs, with Exynos 8 using a custom-designed core for the first time. Messaging and performance claims have since focused heavily on the application processor in isolation from the rest of the system.

Qualcomm is wise not to be drawn into benchmark battles and core count comparisons. The company’s big advantage remains in connectivity and its ability to design highly optimised and extensible chipsets. Its success relies on developers and open APIs in order to create the experiences that will differentiate Snapdragon-based devices and drive demand.

Android is now the de facto horizontal operating system, and developers are looking to deliver incrementally richer experiences on the platform. Qualcomm has an opportunity to change the basis of competition by providing deeper access and more sophisticated APIs spanning multiple parts of the chipset. CCS Insight believes that semiconductor company investment in developers — and their ability to foster differentiated applications and experiences — will play a key role in defining innovation. Developers helped to shape the achievements of Apple and Google, and the same group stands to be a primary ingredient for semiconductor success in mobile, automotive and the Internet of things.

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