Qualcomm unveils flagship processor for 2023 high-end smartphones

From ray-tracing for more realistic 3D effects to the first cognitive image processor and the arrival of Wi-Fi 7, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is packed with new technologies for next year’s high-end smartphones

If you’re in the market for an Android smartphone costing more than 1,000 euros next year, this is the chip that’s going to power it: the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 from Qualcomm. Like every end of the year, the American Qualcomm makes its big show to unveil the new flagship of its SoC. A chip that is interesting not only for what it brings to future high-end devices, but also incidentally, on the equipment that should become popular in the entry-level in the years to come.

On the chip design side, it’s the same as last year or so: the chip is still etched in 4nm, like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. But instead of using Samsung for the first iteration and TSMC for a “plus” version, Qualcomm ordered directly from TSMC. We remember last year the difference in quality between the two suppliers – the chips etched by TSMC were more powerful while consuming less power! This time, Qualcomm does not take any risk and takes the best right away. Not a very good advertisement for Samsung!

If the engraving remains the same, Qualcomm has designed a brand new chip. Both from the point of view of the organization of CPU cores, graphics technologies or an infusion of AI in all the logic bricks of its flagship chip. Here’s a quick look at the anatomy of the 2023 high-end smartphone queen chip.

A 1+4+3 reorganized CPU

The central processing unit (CPU) remains an eight-core chip. But Qualcomm has revisited not only its composition, but also its organization. For fast application launches or ultra-intensive tasks, there is still a very high-powered core called “Prime”, this year in Cortex X3 rather than X2. As for the high-performance and energy-efficient cores, a real mercato has been organized. Instead of a 3+4 configuration, this year we have four high-performance cores and three efficient cores. A choice dictated by gaming, because “developers need more and more high-performance cores for games that are increasingly multithreaded,” explained Ziad Asghar, the general manager of the Snapdragon chipset organization.

Even more complex, when we look at the high-performance cores, this year they are no longer all the same, but separated into two: two ARM Cortex-A715 cores and two Cortex A-710. While the first two are a little more powerful, the 710 are still compatible with 32-bit applications, which is not the case with the Cortex X-3 and A715. Qualcomm has made the choice here to maintain compatibility with older applications. The performance gains promised by Qualcomm are impressive in terms of pure performance, but also in terms of perf/Watt. All the more so as Qualcomm does not change the engraving fineness, the first factor affecting these two areas. But if the American really goes further, it is in graphics.

Almost first on mobile ray-tracing

If Qualcomm announces nice performance increases, it does not give any details on the architecture of its GPU.
Like last year, the graphics chip in this Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 does not change version number and is simply called Adreno. A piece of chip that manages not only the screen display, but especially games, the main reason that forces chip designers to push the power. Apart from the fact that the chip is “up to 25% more powerful and up to 40% more efficient” (energy wise), on the side of the internal organization of this graphics processor, we have nothing to tell you. No, not at all.

Last year, we were already surprised at how little information Qualcomm communicated about its GPU. And Ziad Asghar told us that this silence was “deliberate”. To have asked again this year about the lack of really technical information of these intergenerational improvements, we were told, from the tacit point of view, “the answer of Ziad Asghar still holds”. To be clear, it’s not tomorrow that Qualcomm will be ready to lift the details of its mobile GPU.