A look at Apple’s next generation A9 chip’s competition: Snapdragon 810

Qualcomm Snapdragon

This year, Apple stole the show when it comes to performance by introducing the A8 chip that powers iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and the significantly faster A8X chip that powers iPad Air 2.

Qualcomm, the company that supplies Snapdragon chip which powers a majority of the high-end Android smartphones and tablets has already revealed how it plans to take on Apple’s A-series chips.

Folks at ArsTechnica who got a chance to spend some time with Qualcomm provide some interesting details of the company’s next flagship chip, the Snapdragon 810. Most Android devices are currently powered by its predecessor, Snapdragon 805. Here’s a quick look at the tech specs and features of Snapdragon 810:

  • Snapdragon 810 will come with a 8-core processor, compromising of 4 Cortex A57 cores and 4 Cortex A53 cores, an arrangement ARM calls “big.LITTLE”. Interestingly, Qualcomm will be switching away from its own custom-designed “Krait” CPU architecture to off-the-shelf CPU designs from ARM.
  • While all the eight cores are capable of being active at the same time, it is likely that the faster Cortex A57 cores will do the heavy lifting while the A53 cores take over for lighter tasks to save power, which seems logical as not many mobile apps can make use of that many threads at once.
  • Qualcomm hasn’t provided any details about clock speed. But that might not be too relevant as we’ve seen that Apple’s chips which are generally lower clocked (A8 has a 1.4GHz processor) than Snapdragon, tend to outperform higher clocked Qualcomm’s chips (clocked at 2.3-2.5 Ghz).
  • It would also mean that most Android based smartphones will be finally powered by a 64-bit chip, and bring it on par with iOS devices that have been powered by 64-bit devices since 2013 with the introduction of the A7 chip. With the 32-bit chip, smartphone makers were limited to 4GB memory, it now gives them the option to include up to 16GB RAM, though we don’t expect that to be happening anytime soon.
  • It will also include the new Adreno 430 GPU, which will not only be 30 percent faster than the Adreno 420 GPU in the Snapdragon 805, but will also consume 20 percent less power. It is also interesting to note that just like Adreno 420 GPU, the 430 will also support the same 3840×2160 maximum resolution as Qualcomm expects 4K screens to be more common.
  • It will also support Category 9 LTE, which increases the maximum theoretical download speed to 450Mbps (upload speeds remain the same at 50Mbps).
  • In addition to support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Snapdragon 810 will support “WiGig,” also called 802.11ad. It uses  60GHz band rather than the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands used by current Wi-Fi, and is expected to deliver a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 7Gbps (though ArsTechnica points out that Qualcomm’s implementation will deliver only 4Gbps, probably because of the limitation on the number of antennas due to the space constraints in a mobile device).
  • The processor will be built on TSMC’s new 20nm process, compared to 28nm processes used for Snapdragon 805, which will help in reducing power consumption by 25 percent, assuming the chipmaker does not want to use those savings for improved performance.
  • In addition to these features, Qualcomm also plans to offer an added layer of protection by implementing OS-independent kill switch just like Apple’s Find my iPhone feature.

We don’t have a lot of information about Apple’s next generation A-series chip yet, but according to a recent report, Samsung has already started production of Apple’s A9 chip based on 14nm FinFET fabrication process. The A7 and A8 chips have come with a dual-core processor, so we expect the A9 will come with a quad-core processor. Since Apple relies on Qualcomm chips for the wireless side, we expect the next generation iPhone (iPhone 6s or iPhone 7) to support Category 9 LTE, which increases the maximum theoretical download speed to 450Mbps (iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus support LTE speeds of up to 150 Mbps), and support “WiGig,” also called 802.11ad Wi-Fi.

It will be interesting to see how Apple responds to competition from Snapdragon 810 based smartphones and tablets.

Update: Some of you have pointed out that the Snapdragon 810 should be compared to Apple’s A8 and A8X chips that power iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Air 2. But the way I see it, the Snapdragon 810 will power most Android flagships launched in the first half of the year such as the HTC One M9 (or whatever it is called), Samsung Galaxy S6 etc. If Qualcomm does end up launching a new chip in the middle of the year like it has for the last few years, then it will most likely be an incremental update (like the A9X), and would be used by Android devices such as Samsung Galaxy Note 5, the next generation Nexus etc. But at the end these devices will be compared to iPhone 6s/iPhone 7 that would be powered by the A9 chip.

[via ArsTechnica]