Feature Articles

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 mobile platform explained: what are you getting in your 2021 flagship Android smartphone?

By Liu Hongzuo - 6 Dec 2020

Deconstructing SD888

Note: This feature was first published on 3 Dec 2020.

If you've been following our work over the years, you'll know that smartphones are typically powered with an all-in-one processor, touting individual, on-board processing units for core smartphone functionalities. The CPU typically handles computing performance. Graphics performance falls under the remit of the GPU, and smartphone photography falls upon the ISP. In recent times, such chipsets also integrate dedicated units for Artificial Intelligence tasks (either via an AI engine or a neural processing unit), on-board phone security, a digital signal processor for miscellaneous tasks like audio processing and data compression, and of course, on-board memory.

Qualcomm's flagship-tier chipset - the Snapdragon 888 mobile platform - was just launched at the start of December 2020. True to Qualcomm's timing, the new chipset is slated for flagship-tier Android smartphones that will start showing up in 2021, with the Snapdragon 865 fulfilling its role as the processor for 2020 Android flagship phones.

In this piece, we look at the improvements over Snapdragon 865 (where possible). We also check out specific areas of the new SD888 chipset (computing, imaging, graphics), in the context of the tasks most smartphone users would use them for (browsing, photography and videography, and mobile gaming). Before we dive into each part, let's look at what the Snapdragon 888 offers.


Deconstructing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

On-board the SD888 is a Spectra 580 image signal processor that's 35% faster at photo- and video-taking than its predecessor. The Adreno 660 graphics processing unit is 35% faster at rendering graphics and 20% more power-efficient than the previous generation. The Hexagon 780 processor has 16 times the dedicated memory size compared to previous products, which in turn offers up to three times more performance per watt, and is capable of doing more tasks with minimal handing-off to external memory. That's not forgetting the Kyro 680 CPU, which has a 25% performance increase and is 25% more power-efficient than its previous generation CPU.

Other interesting parts are its second-generation Qualcomm Sensing Hub for identifying and processing different streams of 5G / Wi-Fi / Bluetooth / Location connectivity. To make the extra streams of data, computing power, and graphics power talk to each other, Qualcomm implemented a sixth-generation AI Engine capable of processing up to 26 trillion operations per second (TOPS). For comparison, Snapdragon 865 offered 15 TOPS via its AI Engine.

SD888 also comes with a new feature called Hypervisor. Basically, it allows the chipset to hold two separate operating systems (OS) within. Both operating systems can be identical, with apps residing in specific OSes. It even allows for different OSes to be installed. It's entirely up to the phone maker to implement Hypervisor in a way that works best with their products. They could, for example, push out a phone that has a specific OS for work and personal browsing.

Unlike the Snapdragon 865, there's enough space for Qualcomm to fit its latest 5G modem onto the mobile platform (thanks, 5nm architecture!). By default, the Snapdragon 888 has 5G connectivity on-chip. If you want to learn more about the X60 5G Modem-RF System and what it spells for 5G usage here, be sure to check this piece out as well.

In the next page, we'll look at specific performance areas - imaging in the context of photography and videography and graphics in the context of mobile gaming.

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