The smartphones SoC market has begun changing this year. MediaTek that has been considered to be an outsider, could break the curve and made a tough competition to Qualcomm. There are many reasons behind this, such as Huawei’s withdraw from the global market. On the other hand, MediaTek has made an amazing series of chips – Dimensity. Everyone has been praising the Dimensity 1000 and 800 series SoCs. But everything changed, when a couple of days ago, Qualcomm released its annual flagship – the Snapdragon 888.

The latter brings a lot of improvements and is fairly considered to be the best SoC of the time. But we shouldn’t ignore the Apple A14 Bionic, which debuted with the iPhone 12. So we decided to compare these two in order to understand whether Qualcomm is a true leader.

SoC Definition

Not that much earlier we have been using a special term to describe the ‘brain of a digital device or a computer’. It was the CPU (Central Processing Unit). A regular CPU has been accompanied with various chips like GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), memory controllers, specialized video and audio chips (DSP), and many more. As for now, they all are integrated into one chip. That’s called a system-level integration. Therefore, the term of SoC (System-on-a-Chip) means a single chip including a lot of different functions.

SoC = CPU + GPU + memory controller + DSP + network radio + …

 A14 BionicSnapdragon 888
CPUHexa-core CPUKryo 680, Octa-core CPU
CPU Cores2x 3GHz (Firestorm)
4x 1.8GHz (Icestorm)
1x 2.84GHz (Cortex-X1)
3x 2.4GHz (Cortex A78)
4x 1.8GHz (Cortex A55)
Process Technology TSMC's 5nmSamsung’s 5nm
GPUApple-designed four-core GPUAdreno 660
Machine Learning and AI16-core Neural Engine6th-gen AI accelerator featuring Hexagon 780 DSP
ISPApple-designed Image Signal ProcessorSpectra 580
Camera Capability N/AUp to 200 MP ; 28 MP triple camera with Zero
Shutter Lag ; Triple 14-bit ISPs
Video Capability4K HDR Dolby @ 60FPS8K @ 30 FPS, 4K HDR Dolby @ 60FPS, 720p @ 960FPS
ChargingFast ChargingQuick Charge 5 (100W+)
ModemQualcomm X55 5G Modem 7.5 Gbps Peak Download 3 Gbps Peak UploadQualcomm X60 5G Modem 7.5 Gbps Peak Download 3 Gbps Peak Upload
WiFi SupportWi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6E
BluetoothBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.2

CPU

The Snapdragon 888 is the first chip to officially adopt the Cortex-X1 core (the ARM basic design has some Qualcomm adjustments). Compared with the A78, the X1 can execute 33% more instructions, SIMD hardware has doubled, and the capacity of L1 and L2 cache has also doubled. The core operating frequency of Cortex-X1 is 2.84GHz.

Next is the cluster composed of three Cortex-A78 cores with a clock frequency of 2.4GHz. There are also 4 A55 cores running at 1.8GHz. The CPU also comes with 4MB of L3 cache and 3MB of system cache.

In general, the Kryo 680 CPU promises a 25% increase in processor performance over the Snapdragon 865 chipset. The efficacy has also increased by 25%.

As expected, Apple was the first to make a 5nm process chip. In other words, in a given amount of area, it will have more transistors. It also typically means lower power consumption for a given amount of work. As for the number, Apple could stuff 11.8 billion transistors into the A14. That’s about 40% more than the 8.5 billion in the A13.

Like the previous three Apple A series chips, we can find six CPU cores – two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. Apple has made many changes and that it runs more instructions in parallel. Shortly, the Apple A14 implements more instructions per clock (IPC), which tends to offer better performance at lower clock speeds.

Graphics Card

The Adreno 660 aims to increase rendering performance by 35% while increasing energy efficiency by 20%. It is designed for games with high frame rate and low latency. The goal is to achieve a 144fps, but there are some features that can improve the image quality.

Variable Rate Shading (VRS) is a new technique recently discovered by Nvidia and AMD (including PS5 and Xbox Series X GPU). It allows the shader to work on two or four pixels at a time instead of just one.

This saves computing resources. If the game developer uses it carefully, the rendered picture will be visually indistinguishable. VRS can increase performance by 30%. In addition, it also improves the performance.

Fast touch for games can reduce touch latency by up to 20%. This works at up to 120fps, but is most effective at 60fps. So all games can take advantage of it, even if they do not support higher frame rates.

The Adreno 660 supports 10-bit HDR and sub-pixel rendering. It can also improve the uniformity of the OLED display through Mura compensation.

The Apple A14 integrates the company’s newest GPU architecture with four cores, the same number as in the A13. Apple says it is “scaled to deliver the maximum sustained performance at the lowest possible power.”

According to Apple, the new GPU delivers a 30% increase in graphics performance, with the disclaimer that it is compared to the “previous generation device” meaning the previous iPad Air’s A12.

Connectivity

This is the first chipset to use the Snapdragon X60 5G modem. Unlike the Snapdragon 865, the modem is integrated, not as an external independent chip. This third-generation modem supports 5G and mmWave under sub-6. It provides up to 7.5Gbps downstream speed and up to 3Gbps upstream speed.

Qualcomm said that the FastConnect 6900 system uses Wi-Fi 6G (6GHz band ax), which can reach a speed of 3.6Gbps, making it the fastest mobile Wi-Fi in the industry. The Wi-Fi 6E standard also provides lower latency, which is a boon for streaming games from a local PC (or the cloud, 5G modems can also help).

In addition, it also supports dual-antenna Bluetooth 5.2 technology and the high-quality, low-latency wireless audio technology of the aptX kit.

A key distinction here is that the Apple A14 Bionic relies on an external (non-integrated) modem for 5G connectivity. The A14 is paired up with an older Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G modem. As you understand, it’s a discrete modem integrated separately to the logic board. The download and upload speed is similar to the X60 modem and supports features such as MIMO, carrier aggregation, and more. Plus, it supports WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.

AI

The sixth-generation AI engine combines the new Hexagon 780 and the digital computing capabilities of the GPU, providing 26 TOPS (Snapdragon S865 AI computing power is 15 TOPS). The performance per watt has been increased by 3 times.

The second-generation Sensing Hub also reduces power consumption. It can work at less than 1mA, but can handle more tasks than the first generation. Now, 80% of simple artificial intelligence tasks are handled by the Hub, instead of having to wake up the powerful Hexagon processor. This is suitable for simple applications such as elevator and activity detection and listening to wake words.

Since the A11, which was the first to carry the “Bionic” monicker, Apple has included a custom silicon block called the Neural Engine in its SoCs. As you understand, it performs the kind of operations used in machine learning and AI calculations. In that chip, the Neural Engine performed 600 billion operations per second.

In the A14, Apple doubled the number of Neural Engine cores, because ML and AI tasks are the future. The A14 doubles the Neural Engine from 8 cores to 16, delivering an impressive 11 trillion operations per second. The matrix acceleration hardware in the CPU cores in now a faster “second-generation” design as well.

ISP

The Snapdragon 888 is the first Snapdragon chip with three ISPs (the previous 800 series chips were dual ISPs). In this way, three independent camera streams can be processed at the same time, which has multiple uses. First of all, it can process three 4K HDR video streams, or take three 28-megapixel photos at the same time.

This will also make the transition from ultra-wide camera to wide-format camera to long-distance camera smoother, because each camera has its own ISP. The previous three cameras/two ISP designs caused the phone to “jump” when switching between video streams.

The three ISPs of Spectra 580 are also used for interlaced HDR because they can handle short, medium and long exposures at the same time. In addition to recording 10-bit HDR photos in HEIF image format, the Snapdragon 888 can also record the HDR video function of previous products (Snapdragon 865 supports HDR10 + and supports Dolby Vision video).

Speaking of video shooting, the new chipset can shoot and play 4K video at 120fps. So it can take full advantage of high-resolution 4K displays. Back to photography, the chip can take 120 photos per second with a resolution of 12MP.

As for Apple’s ISP on the A14 Bionic, the Cupertino-based company has not detailed much about its architecture. However, we know the new ISP can capture “unprecedented detail, texture, and minimal noise”.

Generally, Apple doesn’t like disclosing much about its products. The same is true for the Apple A14. As you can see from the above information, we provide more information about the SND88 rather than the A14. As said, the reason is that Apple doesn’t provide much info. So for reviewing the camera features of the A14, we decided to take a look at the iPhone 12. The A14 chip in the iPhone 12 models brings new photographic features to the front-facing TrueDepth camera. Say, for the first time, the Night mode works with the front-facing camera. In other words, you can take nighttime selfies.

Also, it supports Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3, and Dolby Vision HDR video recording options. Among them, Deep Fusion introduces improvements in color and texture in mid to low-light scenes.

Then, Smart HDR 3 improves highlights, shadows, white balance, and contouring in every image for more natural lighting, and Dolby Vision HDR support allows for recording and editing Dolby Vision video.

Now, it supports 4K video recording at up to 60 frames per second and 1080p slo-mo video at 120 frames per second. Other front-facing camera features include support for Memoji and Animoji, time-lapse video, Night mode time-lapse, QuickTake video, and lens correction for removing any photo distortion.

Note: Unfortunately, there is not much information about the gaming, security, and charging improvements of the Apple A14. We will bring more once they are available.

Gaming

Through the new Snapdragon Elite Gaming technology system, the Snapdragon 888 mobile platform has also improved its overall performance at the game level.

On the Snapdragon 888 mobile platform, Qualcomm introduced a new feature for Snapdragon Elite Gaming – Qualcomm Game Quick Touch. This technology will optimize the touch delay problem caused by the display frame synchronization time, refresh time, large workload and other factors during the game.

The Snapdragon 888 that supports Game Quick Touch can increase the response speed from touch to display by 20%. Therefore, even games with frame rates up to 120fps will benefit from their touch response time.

In addition to Qualcomm Game Quick Touch, the Adreno 660 GPU variable resolution rendering technology (VRS) we just mentioned is also an important feature of the new Elite Gaming.

The new Elite Gaming also supports 5G and Wi-Fi 6 cloud games, and can stream Xbox Game Pass through the cloud, introducing Xbox to the Snapdragon terminal. It also supports Google Stadia and Amazon Luna.

In addition, the new Snapdragon Elite Gaming technology system will also support 144 FPS game frame rate, end-game forward rendering, GPU driver update, game true 10-bit HDR display, Dolby Atmos, and Qualcomm aptX Adaptive audio as before. Technology and a series of technologies that enhance the gaming experience.

Security

The Snapdragon 888 is the first mobile chipset that meets the content authenticity initiative standard. It can capture encrypted and sealed photos, which include tamper-proof metadata to prove the authenticity of the image (but in a privacy-sensitive way).

The Snapdragon 888 also has a Hypervisor, which was previously added to the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 chip for PC. This is more of a server and desktop function, because it allows multiple operating systems to run on the same hardware, while being completely independent of each other (so if one operating system is damaged, the security of other operating systems will not be affected).

The Snapdragon 888 can run every application in its own operating system instance to obtain maximum security. It is unclear whether we will see this on Android systems, but it is clear that Snapdragon 888 will also be used for ARM-driven tablets and computers, because this kind of virtualization is more common in these places.

Fast Charging

Qualcomm QuickCharge 5 has been announced before. Of course, the new Snapdragon 888 also provides support, which means it can handle 100W+ fast charging while minimizing heat generation. It is compatible with USB Power Delivery and backward compatible with previous generations of QC, dating back to 2.0.

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