Qualcomm said that Snapdragon 820, the company’s next high-end processor (or SoC) would start “sampling” in the second half of this year (H2 2015). “Sampling” means that the first processors will be produced in limited quantity for engineering purposes. This is how OEMs can start verifying that the chip integration to their product works as planned, and software verification can take place. In general functionality is the first priority, then performance optimizations take place until the final-product launch and beyond.
The Snapdragon 820’s performance will be increased by several factors, and at the moment, Qualcomm has communicated about two things: first, the overall chip manufacturing process will be improved, thanks to the use of finFET, a semiconductor technology that has been created to manage the power leakage and density issues linked to building circuitry that are 20 nm (nano-meters) or smaller. Samsung is already producing its Exynos 7 (powering the Galaxy S6) using finFET. If you are curious about finFET, check out this article and/or watch the video below:
In any case, with finFET, both performance and power-efficiency go up, and this will no doubt benefit the Snapdragon 820 chip’s performance.
Additionally, Qualcomm intends to introduce Kryo, its custom-built 64-bit CPU core which is compatible with the ARM A53/A57 instruction set. In the past, Qualcomm had licensed the instruction set of ARM CPUs such as the A9 and vastly improved the performance of the original design. With Snapdragon 810, Qualcomm used ARM’s CPU design “as is”, probably to get to market faster and/or save engineering time and resources.
The Kryo core design will put Qualcomm back in control of the CPU cores, and we can expect some performance improvement from that. How much remains to be seen, but looking at past custom-cores, it’s fair to be optimistic that the speedup will be significant.
What Qualcomm did not mention however is the graphics processor aka the GPU. It is a huge chunk of performance in any SoC, and arguably the place where most of the raw computing power (in GFLOPS) comes from. The 810 chip uses the excellent Adreno 430 GPU design, but one could hope that Snapdragon 820 would have an even faster GPU. We know that Adreno 500 is in the works, and that it will feature a new core architecture.
It’s a safe bet to think that Snapdragon 820 will be couple of an Adreno 500 GPU, and the combination of those two should propel the performance way beyond what we have seen with Snapdragon 820 so far.
Qualcomm’s announcement about “cognitive computing” (Zeroth) and the need for heterogeneous processing to achieve it is a good hint that more GPU cores could be added to perform general-purpose computing to support this initiative, but that remains to be confirmed- especially in light that Zeroth mainly runs on the CPU at the moment.