Qualcomm May Announce a Snapdragon 875 Lite with a GPU equivalent to the Snapdragon 865
It’s almost time for Qualcomm to hold its annual Snapdragon Summit again, where the chipmaker details its newest flagship processor that will appear in the following year’s phones. We’re all expecting the Snapdragon 875 to be unveiled this year, picking up where the Snapdragon 865 left off.
There have also been some murmurs of a Lite version of its flagship processor, purportedly dubbed the Snapdragon 870, which could be a Snapdragon 865 Plus with a higher clock speed (3.2Ghz or higher). Regardless of what Qualcomm finally shows off come December, a Snapdragon 870 or a “Snapdragon 875 Lite” makes a lot of sense for the company and the smartphone industry in general.
- The Snapdragon 865 has represented a rather controversial entry in Qualcomm’s flagship chipset history. It has unlimited 960fps recording, 8K video recording, world-class graphics, and mmWave 5G with super-fast speeds. But the biggest strike against the chipset has been its price, with it reportedly delivering a steep increase over last year’s Snapdragon 855 series. Xiaomi stated that chipset and modem costs for the Mi 10 series doubled compared to last year’s Mi 9. As a result, there were very few affordable flagship-style devices with Qualcomm’s top chipset in 2020. While Samsung bucked the trend with the extremely competitively priced Galaxy S20 FE, many flagship killer-like phones increased in price, including the Xiaomi Mi 10, OnePlus 8, Poco F2 Pro, and Realme X50 Pro. Between the reported cost of the Snapdragon 865 series, the use of expensive mmWave 5G in some markets (adding up to $100 more for a mmWave variant), and the lack of any genuine rival silicon on the market, it’s no wonder that we saw several brands go with upper mid-range silicon instead of paying the premium.
- Qualcomm’s cheaper Snapdragon 765G processor become the go-to for flagship-lite devices, most notably with the Google Pixel 5 and the LG Velvet. The mid-range chipset delivers good performance for everyday use, as well as many high-end features that match the Snapdragon 865 like 5G, fast charging, high-resolution camera support, and high refresh rate capabilities. But the Snapdragon 765G is relatively weak in the GPU arena. Testing shows that the Snapdragon 765G is weaker than even 2018’s Snapdragon 845 flagship processor when it comes to graphical performance. Those hoping to play power-hungry games or retro games via emulators at the best possible quality might be disappointed. Unfortunately, this gulf in GPU power is particularly pertinent in 2020 and will continue to be so in 2021 and beyond as high refresh rate screens drive up performance requirements. Running the GFXBench on the Pixel 5 and the 90 Hz OnePlus Nord show that the chipset isn’t able to drive the most technically advanced software at more than 60Hz. The Pixel 5 falls just short of 30Hzin the Manhattan test. By comparison, the Asus ROG Phone 2 and Nubia Red Magic 3 — two phones from 2019 with Snapdragon 855 series chipsets and high refresh rate displays — were both able to get much closer to their target frame-rate. Benchmarks don’t necessarily correlate directly to everyday performance of course, and better performance would be expected in web browsing, system navigation, and lightweight games on a phone like the Pixel 5 or the OnePlus Nord. But many 3D games with high refresh rates won’t turn in stable performance. Between PUBG Mobile, Fortnite, and other pending console/PC ports, 60Hz or even lower might be the default refresh rate.
- The Snapdragon 875 Lite with a GPU equivalent to the Snapdragon 865 or perhaps even the 855/855 Plus could ensure support for high frame rates when using a phone with a high refresh rate panel. But graphical performance is only one potential advantage out of several possible upsides. In addition to narrowing the GPU power gap between the Snapdragon 765G and flagship silicon, a Lite processor with a more advanced CPU could also boost multimedia performance and connectivity capabilities. The Snapdragon 765G only has two heavyweight cores compared to four in the 800 series, lags behind on machine learning power, and lacks support for bleeding-edge features like 8K recording, a super-fast ISP, and LPDDR5 RAM. A Snapdragon 875 Lite processor could plug a major gap between the 700 series and the 800 series. A Lite processor would deliver faster and better camera processing (e.g. HDR+), higher resolution multi-frame processing, faster app launching and loading, higher quality video options, and faster, more accurate augmented reality features like face filters. Expected 2021 phones like the Pixel 6 or LG Velvet 2 could stick to a cheaper price point without sacrificing on performance. The flagship killer may also make a comeback, with OEMs no longer having to choose between needing to pay top dollar for elite performance or heavily compromising on other areas like display, storage, build quality, or the camera experience. Would a phone with a slightly downgraded 800 series processor still qualify as a true flagship killer? That’s a philosophical question for another day. Qualcomm will need to walk a fine line between performance, features, and pricing. The last thing needed is a rebadged Snapdragon 700 series chipset with a higher price tag. A shoddy, pricey Lite release could tarnish the Snapdragon 800 family’s reputation, which has occurred in the laptop space, as under-powered chips adopt top-tier branding in a bid to gain more sales.
Another risk is if Qualcomm releases a Lite processor that’s virtually identical to the main chipset but significantly cheaper. This could be a major win for consumers but a problem for the chipmaker, resulting in the firm missing out on revenue as OEMs adopt the Lite chip in lieu of the more expensive silicon.