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Snapdragon 888: Qualcomm's next chip for high-end smartphones in 2021

The Snapdragon 888 is Qualcomm's new flagship SoC and already has numerous supporters when it was announced at the Snapdragon Tech Summit. On the first day of the conference, Qualcomm primarily presented the name of the System-on-a-Chip, a handful of key data and some partners. Technical details will follow tomorrow.

Qualcomm is once again changing the naming scheme of the top processors: Where at the end of 2016 the Snapdragon 820 was unexpectedly followed by the Snapdragon 835 and the "5" has been retained in the name since then, the Snapdragon 875 is not replacing the Snapdragon 865, but the Snapdragon 888 occupies this position. This change is probably due to the ever larger and more important Chinese market, where the "8" plays an important role in the number symbolism and stands for luck, success and wealth. If you want to be very precise, the latest system-on-a-chip is officially called “Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform” in its bulky entirety.

Numerous smartphone manufacturers are on board

Unsurprisingly, the list of supporters from the Asian and especially Chinese regions who want to install the Snapdragon 888 in their high-end smartphones next year is not exactly short. Qualcomm has already received commitments from Asus, Black Shark, Lenovo, LG, Meizu, Motorola, Nubia, Realme, OnePlus, Oppo, Sharp, Vivo, Xiaomi and ZTE. After all, Sony has already made a statement that it is important to the company to always rely on the latest Snapdragon Mobile Platform.

Key data today, technical details tomorrow

But what does the Snapdragon 888 have to offer in detail? As is well known, Qualcomm does not comment on this until the second day of the Snapdragon Tech Summit, which will also start tomorrow at 4 p.m. and can be followed on YouTube. However, the chip developer has already announced a few key data today, including information on the 5G modem, AI performance, and gaming and camera features.

Snapdragon X60 modem from 5 nm production

It starts with the Snapdragon X60, the third generation modem RF system as the successor to the Snapdragon X50 and X55. All current Snapdragon 865 smartphones use the Snapdragon X55, which is responsible for 2G to 5G, and Apple also uses it in the iPhone 12. Whether the modem is integrated into the SoC this time or has to be installed again as an independent chip is still under embargo until the second keynote, but Qualcomm already presented the modem and its functions at the (canceled) MWC at the beginning of the year. The fact that the Snapdragon X60 is manufactured in 5 nm is a more than clear indication of where the Snapdragon 888 will go, without this having already been officially confirmed.

Aggregation of sub-6 GHz and mmWave

The innovations of the 5G modem include the aggregation of spectrum in the sub-6 GHz range with spectrum via mmWave. The data channels from the low-band (600 MHz to 2 GHz) and mid-band (2 GHz to 6 GHz) can be coupled with the data channels in the frequency range above 24 GHz for higher speeds and broad network coverage. In addition, carrier aggregation is only possible in the sub-6 GHz range across FDD and TDD. In Germany, only Sub-6 is currently used.

Telephoning over 5G

The Snapdragon X60 is Qualcomm's first 5G modem with support for Voice over New Radio (VoNR), so that, in addition to the data connection, it is possible to make calls using the new 5G cellular standard. The introduction of VoNR is comparable to that of VoLTE with 4G, which in the initial stage was also a pure data channel, while telephony was still handled via 3G and 2G.

With the support of VoNR, which was standardized in the current 3GPP Release 15, Qualcomm is preparing for the introduction of 5G Standalone, which is to take place with the 3GPP Release 16. With 5G standalone, in theory all services currently offered with 2G, 3G and 4G can be handled entirely via 5G, so that the old networks could be switched off. In practice, LTE in particular will exist alongside 5G for a long time, while 2G and 3G are likely to disappear sooner.

Faster AI engine with 26 TOPS

The Snapdragon 888 also has a new AI engine, i.e. a new AI accelerator, which, however, does not represent a single processing unit at Qualcomm. This means the combination of the components CPU, GPU and DSP, to which the tasks are distributed depending on the application. For this network, Qualcomm specifies a performance of 26 TOPS for the Snapdragon 888. For comparison: In the Snapdragon 865 there are 15 TOPS, in the Snapdragon 855 it was 7 TOPS, Apple mentions 11 TOPS in the A14 Bionic only for the neural engine and the dual-core NPU of the Samsung Exynos 990 creates 15 TOPS.

Adreno-GPU should get faster

Under the term "Snapdragon Elite Gaming" Qualcomm brings together a number of gaming features, including drivers that can be updated via the Google Play Store, forward rendering, HDR or 144-FPS support in games by optimizing together with developers. With the third generation of Snapdragon Elite Gaming in the Snapdragon 888, the new Adreno GPU, which is still unnamed today, is supposed to make a big leap in performance, but Qualcomm will hold back details until tomorrow.

ISP processes 35 percent more pixels

Even for the potential camera performance with smartphones equipped with Snapdragon 888, there is only a rough outlook on the performance today. The new Spectra image processor should be able to take photos and videos with 2.7 gigapixels per second. In other words, this corresponds to 120 photos taken at 12 megapixels per second - a jump of 35 percent compared to the Spectra 480 ISP of the Snapdragon 865.

The announcement in detail will follow tomorrow

Technical details on the Snapdragon 888 will follow tomorrow for the second keynote at 4 p.m.

ComputerBase received information about this article from Qualcomm under NDA. The only requirement was the earliest possible publication time.