Qualcomm Unveils Snapdragon 888 Mobile Processing Platform

December 3 2020, 02:10
During the annual Snapdragon Tech Summit Digital 2020, Qualcomm introduced its latest flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform, which will set the benchmark for flagship Android smartphones in 2021. This new platform packs industry-leading mobile innovations in 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), gaming, and camera technologies, while offering all the processing and connectivity power to enable next-generation immersive audio experiences, including support for Bluetooth 5.2 with LE Audio features.

During the first day of the Snapdragon Tech Summit Digital online event, Qualcomm's President, Cristiano Amon took the virtual stage with global industry leaders to highlight the critical role Qualcomm Snapdragon 8-Series mobile platforms have played to drive experiences forward for the next generation of devices. Qualcomm Technologies’ innovations, coupled with the evolution of 5G, is accelerating and continuing to redefine consumers' experiences with smartphones.

"Creating premium experiences takes a relentless focus on innovation. It takes long term commitment, even in the face of immense uncertainty," says Cristiano Amon, president, Qualcomm Incorporated. “It takes an organization that’s focused on tomorrow, to continue to deliver the technologies that redefine premium experiences."

Qualcomm builds foundational technologies for smartphones first, and then these technologies extend to the broader Snapdragon tiers and into important growth segments being transformed by mobile technology, such as wearables and connected devices that are increasingly "always on" and able of running AI/ML engines locally - what Qualcomm characterizes as "Always On, Always Connected PCs, Extended Reality (XR) devices, Edge/Cloud AI products, 5G Fixed Wireless Broadband, and multiple others." 

The requirements and complexity of these diverse applications depend on innovation that comes from breakthroughs in the premium tier. Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager, mobile, compute, and infrastructure, Qualcomm Technologies, introduced the Company’s latest flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform, which focuses on premium experiences.

"Snapdragon 888, with the 3rd generation Qualcomm Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System, enables global compatibility by offering mmWave and sub-6 across all major bands worldwide, as well as support for 5G carrier aggregation, global multi-SIM, stand alone, non-stand alone, and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing," describes Lekha Motiwala, director of product management for Qualcomm Technologies.

"The new 6th generation Qualcomm AI Engine, with the completely re-engineered Qualcomm Hexagon processor, takes a pivotal leap forward in AI compared to the previous generation to improve performance, power efficiency — all at an astonishing 26 tera operations per second (TOPS). The platform is further enhanced by the 2nd generation Qualcomm Sensing Hub, which incorporates lower-power always-on AI processing for intuitive, intelligent features."

Now that smartphone manufacturers are more desperate than ever to catch-up to Apple's expanding lead in processing and core technologies integration, the race for more powerful engines to power every feature - still unavoidably hindered by Android fragmentation - that can help differentiate devices is more critical than ever, and Qualcomm is ready to capitalize on that demand.

Since its inception, Qualcomm Snapdragon Elite Gaming has delivered dozens of mobile-first technologies to smartphones, including Updateable GPU Drivers, Desktop Forward Rendering, and frame rates achieving up to 144 frames per second (fps). The 3rd generation of Snapdragon Elite Gaming featured in Snapdragon 888 delivers Qualcomm Technologies' most significant upgrade in Qualcomm Adreno GPU performance, the company explains.

Snapdragon 888 will also triple down on the future of computational photography to help transform smartphones into professional quality cameras. With the faster gigapixel speed Qualcomm Spectra ISP, users can capture photos and videos at 2.7 gigapixels per second or roughly 120 photos at 12MP resolution—up to 35% faster than the previous generation.

During the keynote, Qualcomm Technologies demonstrated the power of Snapdragon 888 through a Radio-Controlled race car connected entirely by 5G mmWave. Two race cars were connected to a private 5G network that was built with the help of Verizon and Ericsson and controlled over 5G using a Snapdragon 888 reference design with the Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System. The drivers controlled these cars from over a mile away and viewed live video of the track from afar using the capture capabilities of Snapdragon 888. 

Additionally the race could be viewed on multiple low latency streams to track the RC cars’ position on a dynamic map using the newest location capabilities of the Qualcomm Location Suite for improved accuracy. This showcases the use case possibilities when high performance, reliable, and low latency communications are the norm.

888 Technologies and Audio
“The new flagship Snapdragon 888 Mobile Platform will enable OEMs to further differentiate their devices and allows users to experience the latest cutting-edge mobile technologies,” says Alex Katouzian.

The new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 is an advanced platform with 5G implementation, along with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth audio for enhanced mobile experiences. The integrated 3rd generation Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System enables support for 5G sub-6 carrier aggregation and mmWave to deliver the world’s fastest commercially available 5G speeds, up to 7.5 Gbps. 

The new platform also includes the recently debuted Qualcomm FastConnect 6900 Mobile Connectivity System, supporting the fastest Wi-Fi 6 speeds of any mobile Wi-Fi offering in the industry (up to 3.6Gbps), as well as new 6GHz capacity with Wi-Fi 6E. FastConnect 6900 also delivers a new class of responsive audio with support for Bluetooth 5.2, dual Bluetooth antennas, Qualcomm aptX suite, broadcast audio and advanced modulation & coding optimizations.​

And the Snapdragon 888 SoC takes the biggest architectural leap forward in AI. The completely re-designed 6th generation Qualcomm AI Engine with the new Qualcomm Hexagon 780 processor enables premium experiences that blend AI with professional cameras, personal voice assistants, elite gaming, lightning-fast connectivity and more. The processor also delivers industry-leading power efficiency and performance with up to three times performance per watt improvement over the prior generation — all at an astonishing 26 TOPS. 

The platform is further enhanced by the 2nd generation Qualcomm Sensing Hub, which integrates a dedicated low-power AI processor to enable use cases like screen awake, lift and activity detection, and audio event detection. This is achieved by using contextual awareness and combining new data streams like 5G, WiFi, and Bluetooth. Additionally, the new Qualcomm AI Engine Direct software will provide developers the flexibility to run their next generation on-device AI-powered apps at full-throttle.

Apart form the evolution in image processing and gaming optimization features, in terms of performance the Snapdragon 888 processor packs in major architectural advances. It is manufactured using the most advanced 5nm process technology, allowing breakthrough performance and superior power efficiency. The Qualcomm Kryo 680 core generates up to a 25% uplift in overall CPU performance and allows top frequencies of up to 2.84GHz. It is also the first commercial CPU subsystem to be based on the Arm Cortex-X1. The Qualcomm Adreno 660 GPU achieves its biggest performance leap yet, delivering up to 35% faster graphics rendering compared to the previous generation. More importantly, the Kryo 680 and Adreno 660 are able to sustain their performance over long periods of time.

In terms of support for audio, the 888 integrates the Qualcomm Aqstic smart speaker amplifier (WSA8835) platform, engineered to deliver a whopping 7.3W output power, almost doubling the previous generation specs. The Qualcomm Aqstic audio platform includes audio codecs, DACs, power amplifiers, and a suite of advanced audio and voice software technologies that are engineered to work together to provide the best audio quality, advanced noise reduction, and voice UI experiences available. 

Qualcomm Aqstic voice UI technology on the Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform makes on-device voice interaction easier, with always-on and always-listening capabilities, giving voice-driven smart assistants improved always-on keyword detection and ultra-low power voice processing while using very little battery life. In terms of codecs and audio format support, the Aqstic platform supports MPEG-H and scene-based audio for immersive and spatial audio experiences, higher order Ambisonics capture and playback, "audio zoom" using multiple microphones, and even allows 5.1 surround sound encoding using three-microphone inputs.

The Qualcomm Aqstic also adds multi-mic Echo Cancellation and Noise Suppression (ECNS) technology, as well as adaptive active noise-cancellation (ANC) processing. The full list of specifications also detail interesting details such as native DSD support, and PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz. All these features are fully ready to expand on the technologies that Qualcomm already offers for the development of headphones and true wireless earbuds, and which the company is now unifying under the brand Snapdragon Sound.

And finally, the new Snapdragon 888 includes many security measures for keeping on-device user data private including Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit, Qualcomm Trusted Execution Environment, and support for Qualcomm Wireless Edge Services – a cloud service that Snapdragon can interact with for apps and services to measure the security of the devices and its wireless connections in real-time for secure experiences. Snapdragon 888 also features a new Type-1 Hypervisor, which provides a new way to secure and isolate data between apps and multiple operating systems on the same device.

David McQueen, Research Director at tech market advisory firm, ABI Research, highlights the choice of number for the update – 888 – which is the luckiest combination of numbers in Chinese numerology. "While, in reality, the launch could just signal another set of digits to show its latest enhanced platform refresh, it may also point to Qualcomm extending an olive branch to those in the industry caught up in the ongoing China-US trade war. Moreover, 888 is regarded by the Chinese as a symbol of fortune and prosperity, which will also undoubtedly chime well with Qualcomm’s expectations of success for its newest premium platform," he notes.

Devices based on Snapdragon 888 are expected to be commercially available in the first quarter of 2021.
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