Premium Segment SoC gets a Cortex-X CPU core

After a product cycle of 2021/2022, that was a bit more iinteresting than Qualcomm might have wished, 2023 was a much easier year for the prolific supplier of SoCs and cellular modems. After releasing the first of their Gen 2 family of parts with the flagship-class Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 earlier this year, the company is preparing to move through the next step of its product stack with the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2. What has become Qualcomm’s traditional $400 to $600 “premium” market segment, which focuses on flagship-level features with more modest performance and cost, for the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2, Qualcomm is aiming for a significant performance boost to the platform.

Positioned as the successor to last year’s Snapdragon 7 Gen 1, this year’s iteration of the Snapdragon 7 is broadly focused more on improving performance than adding features. While last year’s Gen 1 part added mmWave support and new CPU and GPU architectures – specifically Armv9 architecture CPU cores – there are only a handful of new features this year. Instead, though, what Qualcomm touts as one of their biggest performance improvements ever is for the Snapdragon 7 family. This is largely facilitated by a much-welcome pivot from Samsung’s beleaguered 4nm process to TSMC’s 4nm process, mirroring Qualcomm’s move last year for the well-received Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 mid-cycle part .

Also new this year, Qualcomm is dropping hints that it won’t be the only Snapdragon 7 Gen 2 part we see this year given the decision to launch their first Gen 2 part as the 7+ instead of the 7. In a nutshell, launching as a Snapdragon 7+ part leaves Qualcomm room to launch a vanilla Snapdragon 7 part later. Sure, Qualcomm isn’t explicitly announcing such a part right now, but there’s little reason to be the first to launch a 7+ unless they had plans for something below that; otherwise they could have launched it as 7-piece ala the Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 which was always a one-chip stack.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 7-Class SoCs
SoC Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2
Snapdragon 7 Gen 1
CPU 1x Cortex-X2
@ 2.91GHz

3x Cortex-A710
@ 2.49GHz

4x Cortex-A510
@ 1.8GHz

1x Cortex-A710
@ 2.4GHz

3x Cortex-A710
@ 2.36GHz

4x Cortex-A510
@ 1.8GHz

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

@ 3200MHz LPDDR5 / 25.6GB/s

2x 16-bit CH

@ 3200MHz LPDDR5 / 25.6GB/s

internet provider/camera Triple 18-bit Spectra ISP

1x 200MP or 108MP with ZSL
64+36MP with ZSL
3x 32MP with ZSL

4K HDR video and 64 MP burst recording

Triple 14-bit Spectra ISP

1x 200MP or 84MP with ZSL
64+20MP with ZSL
3x 25MP with ZSL

4K HDR video and 64 MP burst recording

4K60 10-bit H.265

Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG

1080p240 slow motion recording

4K30 10bit H.265

Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG

720p480 slow motion recording

Integrated modem X62 integrated

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)

DL = 4400 Mbit/s
5G/4G dual active SIM card (DSDA)

X62 integrated

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)

DL = 4400 Mbit/s

mfc. Process TSMC 4nm Samsung 4nm

In terms of CPU organization, the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 retains the same 1+3+4 CPU core configuration that we’ve seen in past generations of the Snapdragon 7 family. The big news here is that the top performing Prime core gets a significant performance boost as Qualcomm makes the switch from using a slightly higher clocked mid-core to using a higher performing CPU architecture.

So, for the first time ever for a Snapdragon 7 part, Qualcomm is tapping one of Arm’s Cortex-X cores for the Prime core. The Cortex-X2 used here is technically Arm’s previous generation design, so it won’t step on the toes of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and its Cortex-X3 core. But compared to the A710 core used for the 7 Gen 1’s Prime core (and 7+ Gen 2’s mid-cores), the Cortex-X2 represents a significant improvement in both IPC and clock speeds. As a result, the peak clock speed for the Prime core has increased from 2.4 GHz to 2.91 GHz, which further coincides with the IPC gains of the more complex core.

All told, Qualcomm touts an “up to” 50% CPU performance boost for 7+ Gen 2 over the 7 Gen 1; pretty much all of this comes from the new Prime core.

The trade-off is that such a big performance boost is really only accessible to single-threaded workloads, since there’s only one Cortex-X2 core. The three mid (performance) cores are again based on Cortex-A710 and are all clocked 2% higher than before. As such, the 7+ Gen 1 won’t make huge gains on heavily multithreaded workloads. The improved power efficiency of TSMC’s 4nm process should yield some gains there, but some of that gain has been invested in making that power-guzzling Cortex-X2 viable from a battery life standpoint.

Meanwhile, the 7+ Gen 2 also includes a faster Adreno GPU. As has been the case with Qualcomm’s integrated GPUs for a few generations, the company doesn’t assign a product number to them – let alone reveal significant architectural details – so there’s a limited amount of detail we can share. Based on the features overview, it doesn’t look like this uses the newer GPU architecture of the 8 Gen 2; so it looks like Qualcomm built in a bigger version of their existing GPU and almost certainly gave it a healthy clock speed boost.

Be that as it may, GPU performance expectations for the new SoC are significant: Qualcomm boasts a massive 2x performance boost over the 7 Gen 1 – a platform that delivered just 20% more than its own predecessor. While these aren’t flagship SoCs, Qualcomm still likes to position the Snapdragon 7 series as a good match for gaming smartphones, especially in China, so it’s not too surprising that Qualcomm is investing so much in GPU performance.

All told, Qualcomm touts a 13% improvement in power efficiency over the 7 Gen 1, at least based on “long-term daily use.” The move to TSMC’s 4nm process should bring significant benefits as evidenced by last year’s 8+ Gen 1 part but at the same time it’s clear that Qualcomm has invested a large chunk of that gain into improving the overall performance.

Feeding the dragon is a 32-bit (dual 16-bit) LPDDR5 memory controller. Unlike the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, the 7+ Gen 2 doesn’t get support for faster LPDDR5X memory, meaning the status quo reigns for the Snapdragon 7 family. In this case, this means support for memory speeds up to LPDDR5-6400, which equates to 25.6 GB/second of memory bandwidth. In contrast to the significant CPU and GPU performance improvements, there will be a lot more pressure on Qualcomm’s cache and memory subsystem to keep the various processing blocks fed.

Speaking of which, it’s not just the CPU and GPU blocks that have seen major performance improvements. Qualcomm’s Hexagon DSP/AI engine has also seen a significant performance boost similar to the GPU’s 2x increase. Qualcomm was light on the technicalities here, but our briefing made no mention of features like INT4 or micro-tiling – two key features of the next-gen Hexagon block on the 8 Gen 2 – so it seems likely that this is a heavily reinforced version of the Hexagon block used on the previous 7 Gen 1.

One piece of Snapdragon 8 technology making its way into the Snapdragon 7, however, is the triple 18-bit Spectra ISP. The 18-bit unit on the 7+ Gen 2 replaces the 14-bit unit present in previous generations of the platform and brings support for triple exposure, computational HDR video capture, as well as improved low-light photography, which Qualcomm has made their Mega Low calls Light function. The end result is that the 7+ Gen 2 can shoot at higher resolutions when using the no shutter lag functionality, and when combined with the updated GPU can now shoot 4K video at up to 60fps, doubling the 4K30 limit of the 7 Gene 1.

Finally, rounding out the package is a reprise of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X62 integrated modem. Like last year’s SoC, this is a mmWave+ Sub-6 Release 16 design that can achieve a theoretical maximum download speed of 4.4 Gbps. However, this year’s design has a twist: support for dual SIM dual active (DSDA), which is another first for the Snapdragon 7 platform. Both active radios on 7+ Gen 2 support 5G and 4G communications, allowing dual SIM users to use essentially any network they want on both radios. This is another premium feature that has so far been limited to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 platform.

As for non-cellular connectivity, the 7+ Gen 2 uses a FastConnect 6900 radio system. This is a relatively modest update to the earlier 6700 radio, increasing Bluetooth support to version 5.3 of the protocol and increasing the peak bandwidth of the 2×2 stream Wi-Fi 6E radio to 3.6 Gbps thanks to dual- band simultaneous (DBS) support .

To top it off, the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 will hit the market very soon. According to Qualcomm, handsets using the SoC will be available later this month, with Redmi and Realme among the OEMs that will release phones based on the new chip.

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