Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 and 800 are the first mobile chips to receive OpenGL ES 3 certification

by: Robert TriggsFebruary 18, 2013


The next generation processor war is definitely on, we’ve already had a look at the promising big.LITTLE A53/A57 combination, and now its Qualcomm’s turn to hint at what it has up its sleeve for the next batch of processors. This time it’s not about raw CPU power, but what the new Snapdragons plan bring to graphics and gaming.

The new Snapdragon 600 and 800 chips, which were shown off at CES earlier this year, are the first processors to receive certification for OpenGL ES 3.0. The Adreno 300 graphics processors used in the Snapdragon chips will be supporting this new technology, which will bring a host of new features for developers and gamers alike.

Who needs a new API?

You might be wondering why a new API (application programming interface) is really that important. Considering we are so used to hearing about clock speeds or the number of cores, APIs are often overlooked but are equally as important when it comes to delivering high quality graphics orientated products.

Low level APIs, like Microsoft’s Direct X and OpenGL, allow developers to utilize graphics hardware without having to write everything from scratch. In other words, graphics APIs work as libraries of pre-coded instructions for developers to use, drastically speeding up development time.

Tessellation is an example of an API dependent feature.

Credit: IVIS Tessellation is an example of an API dependent feature.

New hardware and new APIs tend to go hand in hand, allowing for developers to easily access new hardware features. This is why OpenGL ES 3.0 certification is quite important, devices using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 and 800 processors will be the some of the first to have access to the latest graphical features.

OpenGL ES 3.0

OpenGL ES is a royalty free API based on OpenGL, so it’s commonly used by smaller developers designing 2D/3D applications for small, portable electronic goods.

OpenGL ES 3.0 adds several optional features which will improve the performance and quality of smartphone games. Delving into the specifics, the introduction of occlusion queries will allow an application to better determine the visibility of objects, reducing the number of vertices rendered on screen when they can’t be seen. This should see games run a lot smoother.

The update also sees the introduction of instance rendering, where duplicate items can be rendered with slight alterations without the usual associated performance costs. Transform feedback for particles and support for four or more rendering targets will also assist developers in producing superior looking games.

More noticeably for end users, OpenGL ES 3.0 includes support for superior ETC2 / EAC texture compression, allowing for higher quality compression. This means that developers can squeeze slightly higher quality textures into the same file sizes. This will not only free up GPU memory, games will also require less space on your SD card.

Perhaps most importantly of all, OpenGL ES 3.0 is fully backward compatible with OpenGL ES 2.0. So if you’re planning on buying a device powered by a next generation Snapdragon processor, you’ll still be able to play games using the older API.

Gaming in 2013

Whilst many of the technologies introduced in OpenGL ES 3.0 have been around in the 3D gaming space for a while on high end hardware, it goes to show that smartphone and tablet hardware manufactures are taking gaming more and more seriously.

projectshield Screenshot by AA

However it’s unlikely that gaming on Android will be dominated by OpenGL ES 3.0 devices in 2013, as many Android gaming orientated platforms launching this year, like OUYA, will still be using OpenGL ES 2.0. But that’s not to say that come late 2013 or 2014 we won’t be hearing more about support for newer APIs like OpenGL ES 3.0 or DirectX 11.

Qualcomm is certainly putting itself in a good position for the coming years by being the first to market with the latest graphics technologies, but it isn’t the only one looking to future proof its chips. ARM’s brand new Mali-T600 series should also be OpenGL ES 3.0 compliant, although it is still awaiting certification.

There isn’t any confirmation about which chips the new Mali GPUs will be appearing in as of yet, but if we see one thrown in along side one of ARM’s high performance big.LITTLE CPU’s, then we could well be setting ourselves up for a showdown between Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 and ARM’s A53/A57 at some point in the not to distant future.

  • yahyoh

    u must be kidding O.o

    “Designed for Visual Computing and using innovative tri-pipe architecture, the ARM® Mali™-T604 GPU Compute solution builds upon a track record for high-quality scalable multicore solutions for 2D and 3D graphics. Key APIs supported include OpenVG™ 1.1, OpenGL® ES 1.1, OpenGL ES 2.0, OpenGL ES 3.0*, DirectX® 11 and OpenCL™ 1.1.”



    • Monji

      Not certified yet… Just a marketing strategy for Qualcomm

  • MasterMuffin

    Why doesn’t Tegra 4 support that, nvidia is always saying how they are best in graphic things etc.

    • HellG

      you have to know that nvidia is the king of hyping, AMD 7970 Ghz edition RAPED their 680 but they still claim its the fastest, shame on you AMD for not entering this arena :/

      • MasterMuffin

        AMD is good in that area but it always looses to Intel in CPU power (and we have Intel in the Android camp yippee), but AMD has always good cheaper alternatives

        • HellG

          you have to understand how big intel is, what ever AMD does in 2 years Intel can push huge amount of funding and make it happen in 1 year, but the piledriver is a really good start but its sad that the whole x86 era is coming to an end soon with the rise of ARM, that’s why i find it weird that AMD is not there yet as it can finally have a head start over Intel

          • MasterMuffin

            Not necessary to the end but yea, me sad. Maybe AMD is just afraid of jumping to the already crowded ARM chip market?

          • HellG

            AMD is almost dead, they have no funding, they make no money, and their stock is getting lower and lower in price, if this is not the chance to make such move it will never be

          • MasterMuffin

            Well we’ll see!

  • HellG

    And PowerVR still kicking their ass by a big margin,Qualcomm and Samsung really need to step in their game, and i have no hope for nvidia even if they a 1000 GPU cores since they hyped the tegra 3 and said it will destroy consoles….. :|

    • MasterMuffin

      I can’t understand why Samsung doesn’t use PowerVR, Apple wouldn’t have anything in specs anymore that would beat the competition!

      • HellG

        why use PowerVR’s when they can use their own research labs and come with something bigger? samsung is not a small player in the chip making industries and its a bit sad that a small firm (i dont think apple invest that much in it) beats samsung ass with all its funding…

        • PowerVR graphics are not more advanced than anything else out there. The Imagination Technologies guys aren’t better engineers than everyone else in the world. It’s just that PowerVR GPUs tend to be physically huge. If you give up enough die area to the GPU, anyone can have graphics as fast as Apple.

          And PowerVR really isn’t clearly superior to Adreno anymore, at least not in phones. The Adreno 320 keeps pretty good pace with the iPhone 5 in most benchmarks, and actually comes out on top in a couple. Check Anandtech’s site for details. Of course the SGX554 in the iPad 4 beats everything, but it’s a tablet. It SHOULD be faster than any phone. If it’s not, there’s a problem.

          • HellG

            great, but how does the iPhone still get great battery life? i’m not talking about OS optimization here just raw graphical performance i know the iPhone lower resolution help it here so it doesnt strive the GPU and make it run on its maximum but still how does it achieve such batter performance (it has a ridiculously small battery)

          • MasterMuffin

            Iphone has (and always has had and will have) bad battery life compared to other phones. This Finnish tech magazine (called MikroBitti) did a test with iPhone and sgs3 and sgs3 got 4 hours more (!) battery life. Iphone got 6h, sgs3 10h, test was made with completely new phones screen on max wifi Youtube video playback :)

          • HellG

            but…how?? all reviews i have seen specially GSMarena shows the iPhone way ahead! excluding anandtech as his bias to Apple is disgusting almost all other famous reviewers favor the iphone, source please buddy?

          • MasterMuffin

            I can’t find it because the web page of MB is only for the ones who have ordered the magazine and I bought just that magazine from a store :( I’ll try to find something, just wait!

          • HellG

            spot on, accept me as a follower :))

          • MasterMuffin

            I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about, you can follow people in Disqus? o.O Never knew that! Thanks :)

          • HellG

            yup, go to setting/MasterMuffin and you can viewer who you are following posts/your followers names

          • MasterMuffin

            Nice, I just found out that I’m the #1 commenter in AA (most comments). I have 1464 comments and the next one has 1000 less, maybe I should calm down >.< Well, now you must accept me as well! :)

          • MasterMuffin

            If you google this problem, you’ll find a lot (!) of articles about this

        • MasterMuffin

          If we believe in Ryan, maybe it’s just good that they use MALI. I wonder if the new T600 series would beat PowerVR if T600 was the same size!

  • Brianj

    What about the Adreno 320 that’s in the Nexus 4? That supposed to support OpenGL ES 3.0.

  • SonyFan

    So the Adreno 320 also supports OpenGL ES 3.0??
    “The Adreno 300 graphics processors used in the Snapdragon chips will be supporting this new technology, which will bring a host of new features for developers and gamers alike.”


    So with a blue tooth controller(like the Moga Pro) and this graphic ability I should be able to play the Console version of NBA 2k13 or 14 on my HTC One soon right? Thats all I want! To be able to play console games where ever. 2 Be able to play online with PSN or XBOX LIVE from my phone or tablet would be great to.

  • Pablo

    When will android games for the Nexus 7 be more awesome, it seems we’ve hit a wall.. Hopefully with 3.0 things will be awesome again. I’m most looking forward to cross platform gaming on tablets, like on Tom Clancy’s Division gameplay video