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Qualcomm brings 5G to the Mainstream with its Snapdragon 855

On the second day of its annual Snapdragon Technology Summit in Hawaii, Qualcomm unveiled its latest flagship mobile processor for 2019: the Snapdragon 855.

Compared to the current Snapdragon 845, the Snapdragon 855 features a CPU that is 45-percent faster, and a GPU that is 20-percent faster. It will be built on TSMC’s latest 7nm process, putting it on par with Apple’s A12 Bionic in terms of process technology. As the processor expected to be found in most Android flagships, this is good news for Android phone manufacturers, as it enables them to keep up with Apple in the mobile market.

The CPU is still built on ARM’s DynamIQ technology, its successor the big.LITTLE architecture. It has 4 Cortex A75-based cores for heavy duty processing, as well as 4 Cortex A55-based cores for less power-hungry tasks, allowing it to be more energy efficient.

On the GPU side, the Adreno 630 in the Snapdragon 845 has been upgraded to an Adreno 640 in the Snapdragon 855. Qualcomm claims a 20-percent improvement in performance, but says little beyond that it will be an improvement in gaming. The Snapdragon 855 will also have a faster image processor, as well as an additional processor for neural network workloads.

In terms of connectivity, the Snapdragon 855 will be one of the first chips supporting 802.11ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6. Supporting 8×8 MIMO, Wi-Fi 6 will be the first major upgrade in consumer Wi-Fi technology in years. However, without many devices and routers implementing the protocol yet, this will see very limited benefits, at least until Wi-Fi 6 hits the mainstream.

The X50 Modem will be on a separate chip, splitting the traditional SoC design into 2 components. Image: Qualcomm

In addition to Wi-Fi 6, the Snapdragon 855 is the first mainstream processor to support 5G connectivity. Equipped with Qualcomm’s latest X50 modem, the Snapdragon 855 will support millimeter wave connectivity, which promises much higher download speeds, albeit at shorter distances from a cell tower. The main downside of this upgrade is that the X50 modem is now on a separate chip, and not integrated into the Snapdragon 855 SoC. This means that as a platform, the Snapdragon 855 would have more components, taking up more space, and thus having a higher power consumption and price. As 5G technology is still in its infancy, problems may also arise from the position the phone is held, which may lead to manufacturers putting more antennas in the phone to compensate. This, combined with the larger size of the Snapdragon 855 platform, means that phones would have less space for the battery. While we have yet to test any new phones with the Snapdragon 855, we expect the first batch of 5G phones coming next year to either have a weaker battery life, or be bulkier to accommodate a bigger battery.

The Mi Mix 3 is the first phone featuring the Snapdragon 855 to be announced. Image: Xiaomi

In what has become a yearly cycle, Qualcomm’s announcement is followed shortly by demos and product announcements by the major smartphone manufacturers of new phones utilizing the processor. Xiaomi has confirmed that a newer version of their flagship Mi Mix 3 is coming in 2019 with the Snapdragon 855 and 5G connectivity, becoming the first manufacturer to make the announcement. However, we are still expecting Samsung’s Galaxy S10 to be the first to the market with the processor, when it is announced in the first few months of 2019.

Daniel Adi.
Daniel is a Senior Writer and the Chief Phone Screen Polisher at VRZone. A student in Economics and Computer Science, Daniel is as interested in the policies of Merkel and Largarde as he is in the musings of Alexa and Cortana. Always itching to take things apart, Daniel prefers to dwell on the more technical side of technology.

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