What is The Snapdragon 801 Processor?

SnapdragonIf you are following the mobile news today (and it looks like you are…), you will see that a number of new devices are being released with a Snapdragon 801 chip. At first, I was wondering if they were referring to the rumored Snapdragon 810, but after asking around, we got confirmation that it is indeed Snapdragon 801. Right now there is not much public technical information going around but here is what we know for sure:

After talking to Michelle Leyden Li (Sr. Director, Marketing at Qualcomm), we now know that Snapdragon 801 is a pin-compatible evolution of the 800 chip. It has been designed to improve the performance of all sub-systems, including CPU, GPU, DSP, camera sensor and memory. Here’s a list of things that were improved:

"SNAPDRAGON 801 IS A PERFORMANCE KICKER"There are also things like Dual-SIM support that has been added to cater to the Chinese market where dual-SIM is extremely popular. Inside, you will find the same blocks of logic that made its predecessor popular: four Krait CPUs, an Adreno 330 GPU, and the same array of DSPs and co-processors — now they are “significantly” faster, according to Qualcomm. The company wasn’t ready to share benchmarking scores but seemed confident that we would be pleased when we get our hands on products from its customers.

Snapdragon 801 is what I would call a “performance kicker”, and “how big of a boost” is still up in the air, but we will see soon enough when we get the first products to benchmark. I’m expecting to see something in the order of +10% to +15% on average, but we will take any performance improvements we can get.

For chip companies, it’s not unusual at all to build a new chip that features various architectural optimizations and fixes to make it even more palatable to clients and users.

Qualcomm says that it continuously perform this type of optimizations on most of its chips. Why the new name I asked? Apparently, Qualcomm’s customers are the one asking for the naming because it may be something that they can use to differentiate and point to customers, referring to the extra performance. And it makes sense: since Snapdragon 800 has been out for some time, it won’t hurt OEMs sales effort to talk about.

There are performance improvements that can only be discovered after the initial chip had come back from manufacturing, like something limiting the overall frequency or something that adds adding latency system-wide. If the changes are complex enough, a new physical chip has to be built, and if the market wants additional features, that’s a great time to add them too."OEMS HAVE NO REASON NOT TO UPGRADE"

Fortunately, the changes are completely transparent to the software, so Snapdragon 801 is a drop-in replacement for the 800 version. This means that every single OEM can refresh a product out with it if they choose to. Those working on Snapdragon 800 based products can simply opt to change at the last minute. In short, there’s really no reason not to.

Update: Qualcomm has given me some performance numbers:

Transparency: Our trip from San Francisco to Barcelona is partially arranged by Qualcomm, along with other media. Many news outlet don’t disclose this, but we do. More about our travel policy.

Read more about MWC, MWC 2014, processors and Qualcomm.

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