Bringing Armv9 to premium smartphones

In addition to the new Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, as part of Qualcomm’s “Snapdragon Night” event tonight in China, the company is also introducing a brand new SoC for the premium phone market, the Snapdragon 7 Gen 1. Targeted downmarket of Qualcomm’s traditional flagship SoCs, The Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 is the first non-flagship SoC introduced by Qualcomm since they implemented their new platform naming and differentiation scheme. But, just like the Snapdragon 7xx series before it, the latest Snapdragon 7 SoC follows the same design mantra of offering flagship features with more modest performance and cost.

Within Qualcomm’s pantheon of smartphone SoCs, the Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 is the successor to last year’s Snapdragon 780G/778G parts. Right now, Qualcomm is sticking to a single SKU, although last year the 780G and 778G were a few months apart – so Qualcomm can split things up further.

Like its predecessors, the 7 Gen 1 follows Qualcomm’s tiered development strategy, introducing new features first in their flagship SoC and then implementing them in future lower end chips. The big update to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 was, of course, the move to Armv9 architecture and Arm’s companion CPU cores, and now Arm’s premium SoC is getting the same treatment.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Flagship SoCs
SoC Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 Snapdragon 780G
Processor 1x Cortex-A710
@ 2.4GHz

3x Cortex-A710
@ 2.36GHz

4x Cortex-A510
@ 1.8GHz

1x Cortex-A78
@ 2.4GHz

3x Cortex-A78
@ 2.2GHz

4x Cortex-A55
@ 1.9GHz

GPU Adreno Adreno 642
DSP / NPU Hexagon Hexagon 770
2x 16-bit CH

@ 3200MHz LPDDR5 / 25.6GB/s

2x 16-bit CH

@ 2133MHz LPDDR4X / 17.0GB/s

ISP/Camera Triple 14-bit Spectra ISP

1x 200MP or 84MP with ZSL

64+20MP with ZSL

3x 25MP with ZSL

4K HDR video and 64MP burst recording

Triple 14-bit Spectra 570 ISP

1x 192 MP or 84 MP with ZSL

64+20MP with ZSL

3x 25MP with ZSL

4K30 10-bit H.265

Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG

720p480 infinite recording

4K30, 1080p120
H.264 & H.265

10-bit HDR Pipelines

Integrated modem X62 Integrated

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)

DL = 4400 Mbps

X53 Integrated

(5G NR Sub-6 4×4 100MHz)
DL = 3300Mbps

mfc. Process Samsung 4nm Samsung 5LPE

In terms of organization, the new 7 Gen 1 is very similar to the 780G, with a 1+3+4 core configuration. Qualcomm only uses two core types here – the powerful Cortex-A710 and the highly efficient Cortex-A510 – so instead of the primary core being a unique core type (also the Cortex-X2 on the 8G1), it’s a different Cortex-A710 here. Qualcomm clocks this core at 2.4GHz, while the remaining 3 A710s are clocked slightly lower at 2.36GHz. Finally, the A510s are clocked at 1.8GHz, the same as on the 8G1.

The shift in CPU cores also brings an update to Qualcomm’s memory controller. The 7 Gen 1 adds LPDDR5 capabilities and supports up to the same LPDDR5-6400 data rates as the 8 Gen 1. So with a 2×16-bit channel memory bus, the 7 Gen 1 can access 25.6 GB/second memory bandwidth, a 50% improvement versus the LPDDR4X-compatible 780G.

Unusually, even for Qualcomm, the company isn’t talking about CPU performance with the new part. So without benchmarking data, we can’t say much about performance expectations here. The new Arm cores should allow for better performance, but there is a lot of leeway due to implementation details.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm is a bit more talkative on the GPU front, albeit not massively. Like the 8G1, Qualcomm drops every kind of model number for the GPU on the 7 Gen 1, so it’s just “Adreno” with nothing to differentiate it from the 8G1 or previous-generation parts. Technically, we can’t even deduce whether it uses Qualcomm’s new GPU architecture – although given its feature set and cascading design strategy it is almost certainly yes. But what Qualcomm is Saying about the GPU performance of the new part is that it is 20% faster than the Snapdragon 778G and it is Adreno 642L GPU. Going with the weaker SKU is icing on Qualcomm’s cake, but for now it at least confirms that the 7 Gen 1 will be slightly faster than its predecessor.

That’s a good thing too, as gaming is one of the main focuses of the 7 Gen 1. It’s gaming/GPU performance where Qualcomm leads the way in their 7 Gen 1 marketing materials, and it’s no coincidence that this part is being announced at an event in China. Mobile gaming is big all over the world, but nowhere is it bigger than in the Chinese market. So Qualcomm no doubt expects their OEM partners to move a significant number of gaming-focused handsets into that crowded market.

Meanwhile, since this isn’t a flagship like the new 8+ Gen 1, Qualcomm isn’t as aggressive on the fantastic front either. The 7 Gen 1 is produced on Samsung’s 4nm process, the same as the original 8 Gen 1, and which Qualcomm intentionally replaces with TSMC for their flagship SoC. And while Samsung’s trial is clearly the underperforming option at the moment, with lines at TSMC running out the door and around the corner, it’s not surprising to see Qualcomm opt for a less limited (and no doubt cheaper) fab for their second-tier smartphone SoC.

Aside from CPU and GPU, Qualcomm’s cascading design strategy also matters that a few other notable features of the 8G1 are moving to their new 7-series SoC. That includes the latest Spectra ISP, as well as Qualcomm’s latest AI hardware and their trust management engine.

In the case of the 7 Gen 1’s Spectra ISP, it’s shrunk accordingly from the 8G1. Qualcomm still implements a “triple” ISP here that can handle up to 3 simultaneous cameras, but the overall throughput is lower. Still, the ISP can now handle an image of up to 200MP, although that drops significantly to 64MP if you don’t need a shutter lag. Beyond that, this is another 14-bit imaging pipeline ISP, which is similar to the 780G but lacks the extra dynamic range of the 8G1.

Rounding out the package is an integrated modem, in the form of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X62. Compared to last year’s 780G SoC and its X53 modem, the X62-equipped 7 Gen 1 offers both greater throughput and more bands. Notably, this SoC is mmWave compatible, which was a notable omission in last year’s SoC. Overall, the 7G1/X62 is capable of achieving download speeds of up to 4.4 Gbps, a 33% improvement over its predecessor.

To wrap things up, the Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 will be the fastest to ship Qualcomm’s two new SoCs today. According to the company, handsets using the SoC will be available this quarter, with Honor, OPPO and Xiaomi among the OEMs that will release phones based on the new chip.

Leave a Comment