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5 key things to note about the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 is a complicated piece of tech, so here are the key takeaways from the next-gen flagship processor.

Published onMarch 21, 2021

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 mobile application processor is a bewilderingly complex piece of silicon. Between the new CPU, GPU, machine learning, image processing, a 5G modem, and sensor hub components, there’s an awful lot to dive into. The bottom line is that the chip promises to be faster and more energy-efficient. It also introduces new features not found on the previous generation chips of many 2020 flagships.

Check out the link below for a full rundown of the Snapdragon 888’s deeper ins and outs. But stick with us here if you’re after a key overview of the top five Snapdragon 888 features.

Take a closer look: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888: Everything you need to know

5nm manufacturing is good for power efficiency

The mobile industry remains at the cutting edge of chipset manufacturing, booking up slots on the best manufacturing lines ahead of other processor designers. Qualcomm joins Apple, HUAWEI, and Samsung in manufacturing its latest chipset on a 5nm process.

Smaller 5nm manufacturing techniques offer superior transistor density. This means taking up less silicon area and improved energy efficiency compared to last-gen 7nm chips. Combined with the efficiency gains of Arm’s Cortex-A78 CPU and revamped machine learning processors, the Snapdragon 888 should be Qualcomm’s most efficient flagship chip to date.

Qualcomm notes that the Snapdragon 888 wins not just in terms of performance. It bests last years’ Snapdragon 865 for power consumption too. Phones powered by the chip should provide more screen-on time than the previous generation. This is great news considering 2020’s trends in 5G mmWave and high-refresh displays have proven to be a little on the power-hungry side.

More gaming power than ever before

ASUS ROG Phone 2 Gaming fo screen at angle

The Snapdragon 888 boasts 35% more graphics performance with 20% better efficiency. That’s a big deal. It can be the difference between stuttery mid-40 frames per second and smooth 60fps or jumping from 90fps to 120fps while gaming.

Performance is one thing, but the Snapdragon 888 also supports new cutting-edge gaming and graphics features too. 10-bit HDR graphics, forward rendering, and 144fps refresh rates are augmented with new Variable Rate Shading engine support, Qualcomm Game Quick Touch for lower input latency, and display features like sub-pixel rendering for smoother looking images.

The new CPU cores will certainly increase overall system performance too. However, the Snapdragon 888’s biggest performance win appears to be in the graphics department. Gamers rejoice!

An integrated 5G modem (at last)

It’s been a long time coming, but the Snapdragon 888 integrates Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X60 modem into the same chip. Previous flagship chips required an external modem, while the mid-range Snapdragon 765 integrated a slower 5G modem.

Read more: Why there’s no integrated 5G modem in the Snapdragon 865

Qualcomm previously stated that it wasn’t possible to bring all its high-end 5G features to an integrated modem with the Snapdragon X55, due to its sheer size and power consumption. The move to 5nm is not only good for power efficiency and heat, but also for transistor density. This has made it easier for Qualcomm to integrate a powerful modem onto the same piece of silicon.

Integrated components tend to be more power-efficient, as there’s less power wasted moving data between external chips and memory. Similarly, less area taken up by multiple components means more space inside smartphones for other hardware or bigger batteries. Battery life should therefore be a big winner here. Likewise, high-end 5G bill-of-materials may be slightly lower with just one chip. Although when asked, Qualcomm refused to comment on component pricing.

Doubling down on machine learning

Machine learning is a core part of modern processor platforms, and Qualcomm has revamped its AI capabilities in the Snapdragon 888.

It has fused its AI components together, offering up to a 3x improvement to performance per watt and up to 26TOPs of computing across the entire heterogeneous system. The Snapdragon 888 also pushes AI capabilities into its always-on sensor hub, assisting with voice recognition and other features in a tiny power budget.

Of course, better hardware is all well and good, but developers need tools to make the most of it. Fortunately, the new Qualcomm AI Engine Direct acts as an entry point for Android NN, TensorFlow Lite, and Qualcomm SDKs. Qualcomm’s AI platform also now supports the open-source TVM compiler, enabling developers to program in Python rather than C or assembly. It’s easier than ever to leverage the entire Qualcomm AI engine.

The bottom line is that your Snapchat filters and fancier machine learning use cases will run better while consuming less power than ever before.

Making the most of triple cameras

Mi 10T Pro vs OnePlus 8T showing camera modules
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Triple cameras have been a staple of flagship smartphone photography for a few years now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made even better. Qualcomm has revamped the image processing capabilities inside the Snapdragon 888. It has moved from two to three processing units for a whopping 2.7 gigapixels per second of processing power.

This means the Snapdragon 888 can now simultaneously process images and videos from three cameras. This makes it possible to record from the main, wide, and telephoto lenses all at once, or take pictures from the front and back cameras at the same time. The Snapdragon 888 can also run more advanced processing on a single camera, with even tighter integration with the chip’s machine learning capabilities.

The chipset also supports 10-bit HDR video, 4K HDR computational video, and 120fps 12MP burst photographs for sport and action shots. Ultimately though, it comes down to Qualcomm’s partners to implement these new features. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what ends up in next-gen phones.

With more efficient processing and networking, enhanced gaming features, and big improvements to AI and multi-camera support, these Snapdragon 888 features are a notable upgrade over the Snapdragon 865. Although, as with most tech these days, it’s still more of an evolution than revolution. The good news is that there’s not long left to wait until the first smartphones sporting the chip arrive in Q1 2020.

Next: Snapdragon SoC guide: All of Qualcomm’s smartphone processors explained

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