The new Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 System on Chip(SoC) was announced at the Snapdragon Tech Summit, Hawaii in Dec 2017.
This SoC is a successor to the popular Snapdragon 835 SoC but is claimed to better on the parameters related to battery life, security, connectivity, virtual reality(VR), and video recording.
As with its predecessor, this will also be based on the Samsung’s 10nm LPP(Low Power Plus) FINFET process node which also powers Samsung’s in-built Exynos processor used in Galaxy S8.
Fig 1. FINFET transistor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 will power most of the Android phones which are set to be rolled out in 2018. Lastly, the current set of “Always connected PCs” based on Windows 10 platform is running on Qualcomm chips and will feature Snapdragon 835. They will possibly migrate to Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 in the future.
Fig 2. Current “Always-connected PCs” based on Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC
Now that we have looked into the exoskeleton, let us go into the details and see what is there to expect from this SoC?
Let us go step by step………..
First, What is a SoC?
System on Chip(SoC) integrates all the components necessary for computing on a single substrate. These components can be digital, analog, mixed or RF signal based. SoC is popular in mobile computing were low power consumption and less heating is the prioty.
Design Advantages of Qualcomm 845 SoC?
As mentioned earlier, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 focusses on battery life, security, connectivity, virtual reality(VR), and video recording. Along with Artificial Intelligence and Security are also addressed over its predecessor.
The image below shows the internal composition of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845.
Fig 3. Internal Structure of Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC
Animation of Snapdragon 845 SoC ⇒ (www.qualcomm.com/videos/snapdragon-845-mobile-platform-animation)
The components along with their design advantages over the previous generation are described below which will also include parameters like battery life, security, connectivity, virtual reality(VR), and video recording that Qualcomm is trying to address with its latest SoC
1] Adreno 630 Visual Processing Subsystem
“Adreno” is the of the series of Graphics Processing Units(GPU’s) produced by Qualcomm for the use in their SoC. GPU does some complicated calculations which are essential for producing the image on the device display.
The new Adreno 630 GPU comes with many enhancements over its previous generation
– It takes virtual, augmented and mixed reality to another level. It will be the first SoC to enable room scale 6 Degrees of Freedom(DoF) of freedom with simultaneous localization and mapping(SLAM). This feature is similar to what we feel in 3D movie theatres or a real life feeling of something being thrown at us.
SLAM is a used for developing terrain details for autonomous vehicles using complex computational algorithms.
– It is suited for Ultra High Definition(UHD) or Virtual Reality headsets which have high refresh rates like in Kopin Corp’s OLED based VR Headset.
Adreno 630 GPU boasts of 2K x 2K with a refresh rate of 120Hz which is 2.5x faster at display output.
Fig 4. Adreno 630 GPU part of Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC for VR/AR/MR
– It is supposed to give a 30% improvement in graphics output and 30% reduction in power consumption.
– It has features like Adreno foveation which comprises of tile and multi-view rendering, eye tracking and fine grain preemption to reduce peripheral vision and give a sharper image. Foveation is a Digital Signal Processing(DSP) term where the highest resolution corresponds to the fovea of the eye’s retina.
Fig 5. fovea centralis or fovea in the human eye responsible for sharp vision to do activities like reading etc. 
2] Qualcomm Spectra 280 ISP
Qualcomm has a 2nd Generation Spectra 280 Image Signal Processor(ISP) in the Snapdragon 845 SoC. The ISP in combination with the Adreno 630 Graphics Processing Unit(GPU) is able to provide an “Immerse” experience which helps the camera imitate the human eye.
This “Immerse” experience helps in enhancing the user’s experience regarding movie viewing and eXtended reality (XR). XR includes Virtual Reality(VR), Augmented Reality(AR) and Mixed Reality(MR).
The processor does something called as Image signal processing, which helps to do low light photography with ease.
Image signal processing is defined as a method to convert an image into digital form while executing some action either to enhance the image or to extract some useful information.
Fig 6. 2nd Generation Qualcomm Spectra 280 ISP 
Owing to the 2nd Generation Spectra 280 ISP, Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC will have many enhancements over its predecessor
– It will be able to capture 64x more high-dynamic range color information for video capture and playback on Ultra HD(UHD) Premium displays
– It has an integrated chipset that supports faster, 60fps multi-frame noise reductions at 16MP, meaning your phone will perform even better in low-light conditions
– It can record slow-motion videos at 720p @480 fps
– It has Motion Compensated Temporal Filtering (MCTF) and Improved Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) which help in improving overall captured video by using the SoC’s computing capabilities
Fig 7. MTCF & EIS at play to better images and videos 
– It has InMotion computational photography that allows us to superimpose a still image over a moving background
– Qualcomm Spectra Module has new modules for Iris Scan and one for a new feature “Active Depth Sensing”. The basis for the Spectra Module is the dual cameras which have been the building blocking of Clear Sight technology implemented in 1st Generation Spectra 280 ISP
The 2nd Generation Spectra 280 ISP retains the Clear Sight technology which was used to imitate the human eye.
Fig 8. Hardware for ClearSight in Qualcomm Spectra 280 ISP 
Clear Sight consists of an integrated hardware module that contains two cameras along with computational low-light imaging algorithms that enable Qualcomm Spectra ISP to take photos to take synchronized photos and merge them instantaneously giving a great output in low-lighting condition.
Active Depth sensing is achieved using an IR(infrared) illuminator & cameras. The illuminator fires a light that creates a dot pattern on an object.
Fig 9. Spectra Module in 2nd Generation Qualcomm Spectra 280 ISP 
The IR camera searches for it and reads the pattern. Based on the deviation of the dots from the baseline, the distance of the object is estimated.
Fig 10. Active Depth Sensing in 2nd Generation Qualcomm Spectra 280 ISP 
The following video gives a nice demonstration of the functioning of 2nd Qualcomm Spectra 280 ISP camera module.
3] Kryo 385 CPU
The CPU in the Snapdragon 845 is also Kryo based like in Snapdragon 835. Kryo is the of series which represents semi-custom and custom-made CPU’s based on ARM design. ARM licenses their CPU design to potential manufacturers and gains royalty on them.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC has Kryo 385 CPU based on the Samsung’s 10nm LPP(Low Power Plus) FINFET process node.
Let us look into the features of the Kryo 385 CPU which will perform better on many fronts over its predecessor
– It has eight(8x) cores where four(4x) performance cores and four(4x) efficiency cores. The performance cores are the high power ones whereas the efficiency cores are the low power ones.
The performance cores have a clock speed up to 2.8GHz (25 percent performance uplift compared to the previous generation). The efficiency cores have a clock speed up to 1.8GHz.
The CPU design is based on what ARM calls as “big.Little” technology.The technology in simple words means low-intensity tasks go to the low-power core while the high-power ones are off.
This can also be interpreted as we have only four(4x) cores working at any given point in time.
This is implemented for the SoC using different generations of cortex designed by ARM. The technology has been implemented since 2013 in various smartphones.
The video below gives a brief insight into why “big.Little” technology is needed and how it works
– It has a new 2MB L3 cache memory on the SoC giving faster operations. It also has a 3MB system cache which is a Random access memory(RAM) giving a boost to computational needs and processing applications.
4] Qualcomm Hexagon 685 DSP
Qualcomm has Hexagon 685 Digital Signal Processor(DSP) on the Snapdragon 845 SoC.The Hexagon DSP architecture gives Qualcomm an advantage due to power efficiency and for multi-media applications.
Let us delve a little more detail into the Hexagon 685 DSP as it is the critical component for computing needs for display, face recognition, multimedia files, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence(AI)
– It has a 3rd Generation Hexagon Vector Extensions (HVX) that can do complex vector calculations and operations on large amounts of data efficiently. The DSP works with ISP for depth sensing and other carrying activities like enhancing images.
– It consists of the 3rd Generation Qualcomm “All-Ways Aware” Sensor Hub.Since the smartphone is considered an extension of our Human-self. Considering this, it has brought its “All-Ways Aware” Sensor Hub to Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. Sensors provide information like temperature, location all with touch. This will be the basis for the Internet of Things(IoT).
With the presence of Adreno 630 GPU, Kryo 385 CPU, and Hexagon 685 DSP Qualcomm Snapdragon 645 SoC has something called the Neural Processing Engine(NPE) which is used for Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence(AI) applications.
The NPE assists to save time and effort by optimizing the performance of trained neural networks on devices that are powered by Snapdragon processors. It makes available tools for model conversion/execution & Application Program Interface(API) for power and performance profile from the core to meet user requirements.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 645 SoC continues its support to Google’s TensorFlow and Facebook’s Caffe/Caffe2 frameworks. In addition to this, NPE SDK now supports Tensorflow Lite and the new Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX). It also supports Google’s Android Neural Networks(NN) API.
The following video is from 2013 when Qualcomm had introduced its Zeroth Processors and talked about having Neural Processing Unit’s(NPU’s) on the SoC. The idea is to have Biologically Inspired Learning rather than using codes to dictate the action of autonomous vehicles. An augmentative approach is used to build this learning.
5] Secure Processing Unit
Since 2013, security has been pitched as one of the unique points by different smartphone OEM’s. Apple had introduced the TouchID that year(September 2013) which was followed by FaceID in September 2017. Apple has developed something called as a Secure Enclave within the A11 Bionic Chip which powers its latest iPhone X.
The Secure Enclave claims to keep the user’s data(passwords, passcodes, biometrics etc.) in encrypted format within the enclave which is irrelevant even if accessed by the hacker.
Fig 11. Face ID on iPhone X from Apple which enhances security over TouchID 
In-line with this, the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC, comes with a new dedicated section/module on the SoC called as a Secure Processing Unit (SPU). Many smartphone OEM’s using Qualcomm SoC’s are set to get a boost in their quest for securing their customer’s data.
The SPU is supposed to have its own processor, memory for storage and power. Using its processor, it encrypts the data that it stores. All the operations are localized and it is totally isolated from the outside world like the cloud. The encryption and localization reduce the possibility of hacking to the minimum.
The functionalities that are covered by the SPU are as follows
- It protects Biometric data(fingerprint, iris, voice, face) used for authentication and payments
- It helps to screen the user data from third-party applications who try to behavioral study using machine learning
5] Connectivity [Cellular using SD X20 LTE Modem]
Social media platforms and online video streaming sites like Amazon, Hulu are data intensive. In order to stream HD quality videos, the bandwidth required is higher which can be interpreted as higher data speeds on Wi-Fi or LTE/4G.
In order to address this issue, Qualcomm has built Gigabit Class wireless solution which makes it possible to get fiber-optic cable high speed but wirelessly!!!!
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 takes this to another level by integrating 2nd Gigabit Class LTE solution and the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem. This will speed up the connection for eXtended reality (XR) experiences, huge multimedia file download on the go or experience convenience of app downloads.
With a new modem and new LTE solution, Qualcomm is very well poised for the 4G to 5G transition. Let us into the other enhancements in Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
- It supports for 1.2 Gbps Gigabit LTE Category 18
The Snapdragon X20 LTE modem supports a wide range of technology/frequency band to assist quicker availability of Gigabit LTE and in preparation of 5G.
The figure below shows the results available from the simulations up to Category 16 using on the same network.Category 16 was implemented in Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. Category 6 is the average with the speed around 65 Mbps for the LTE phones.
The X20 provides 20% faster peak and real-world speeds compared to our last generation X16 LTE modem.
Fig 12. Average Speeds achieved in a network simulation for Gigabit LTE category in the same network 
- It supports five(5x) carrier aggregation that means the user can receive data simultaneously from five channels
- It has License Assisted Access (LAA) for aggregation of LTE with unlicensed spectrum(5GHz) to achieve higher download speeds for the user
- It uses MIMO (multiple inputs multiple outputs) techniques which increases network capacity and carrier aggregation which increases end-user throughput
- It supports Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) which uses Time Division-LTE (TD-LTE) to provide a wireless voice and data service at 3.5GHz within a small area like a building
Fig 13. Example of CBRS based on TD-LTE supported by Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
- Dual SIM-Dual VoLTE (DSDV)
The new Qualcomm SoC is designed to provide VoLTE support to both the SIM’s with necessary battery and network management in order to sustain performance of the device.
6] Connectivity [Wi-Fi Conectivity]
Like Cellular connectivity, there is an improvement in Wi-Fi connectivity in Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. Let us look into its improvements over the previous generation
- It supports Wi-Fi standards 802.11 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi which can give data speeds to 4.6Gbps
- It has a multi-gigabit Wi-Fi standard 802.11ad that allows the user to download 4K videos, sync albums and access cloud real-time module. It utilizes the mm-Wave 60 GHz band which offers an insight into 5G technology.
- It integrates 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi with Dual Band Simultaneous (DBS) support.
2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi with Multi-user MIMO(MU-MIMO) improves Wi-Fi performance & improves user experience by providing simultaneous multiple device support, eliminate dead spots and increase download speeds. 2×2 Wi-Fi has two antennas instead of one giving better signal penetration coverage.
Dual Band Simultaneous(DBS) support consists of two separate Wi-Fi networks using 2.4- and 5-GHz frequency bands. This doubles the bandwidth and reliability.
- It provides support to IEEE standard 802.11k/r/v regarding the Carrier Wi-Fi for enhanced mobility, fast acquisition, and congestion mitigation allowing Original Equipment Manufacturer’s(OEM’s) to incorporate it into their devices
- It has Bluetooth 5.0 with proprietary improvements for low-power(50% lower) ear-bud support and audio link to many devices.
Fig 14. Bluetooth 5.0 on Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
7] Qualcomm Aqstic Audio
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 comes with audio improvements as it features it Aqstic Audio. It is powered using Artificial Intelligence(AI) which can help it to work in a chaotic environment at low power. To take advantage of this breakthrough, Qualcomm and Baidu will work together to implement an AI voice solution based on Snapdragon 845.
As we did previously, let us look into its improvements incorporated in Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 over the previous generation 
- Qualcomm Aqstic Audio codec(WCD934x) supports high-resolution audio standards. A codec is a program used coding & decoding a signal.
It has an integrated DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and pulse-code modulation (PCM) Hi-Fi audio playback.
- Dynamic range: 130dB & THD+N: -109dB
The DAC on the Qualcomm Aqstic Audio codec has ultra-low Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise (THD+N), which means no additional noise or signal is added for the most authentic sound reproduction.
- Native DSD support (DSD64/DSD128), PCM up to 384kHz/32bit
It has an integrated DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that supports native Direct-Stream Digital (DSD) and pulse-code modulation (PCM) Hi-Fi audio playback. DSD is a standard found on Super Audio Compact Discs (SACDs), and the Qualcomm Aqstic audio codec can decode DSD files natively.
- Low power voice activation: 0.65mA
- Dynamic range: 109dB, THD+N: -103dB
- Sampling: Up to 192kHz/24bit
8] Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+
At the end, all the design advancements need to be powered by the battery. As we have seen that with improvements in ISP, GPU and CPU the power requirements have reduced as compared to the previous generation.
Still, with growing number of functions being performed by the smartphone, they tend to drain out. As a user, we would expect a quick turn around and longer life for the battery.
Qualcomm has a solution for this via the proprietary – Quick Charge Technology.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 has Quick Charge 4+ which helps to charge the device quickly using a good balance between voltage, current, and temperature.
Fig 15. Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+ logo
This ensures longer battery life. It does this by intelligent thermal management via the presence of power management IC and temperature monitoring of the case & connector.
Fig 16. Quick Charge 4+ effect on the battery during an internal test
Qualcomm claims Quick Charge 4+ can charge 15% faster, 30% more efficiently while keeping the battery 3 degrees cooler.
Quick Charge 4+⇒ (https://www.qualcomm.com/videos/change-way-you-charge)
Here I have tried to an overview regarding what we can expect from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC which is going to lead us to the 5G revolution. The next SoC to look out for would be Snapdragon 855 SoC which will mostly be based on TSMC’s technology node.
So till then, let’s wait for flagships that are going to launch this year on Snapdragon 845 SoC and how the Neural Processing Engine(NPE) revolutionizes the Artificial Intelligence(AI) and Machine Learning in our hand-held devices.
Hope you liked reading this article regarding Qualcomm’s new SoC. I indeed enjoyed reading and writing about it. 🙂
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