CPU Performance & Efficiency: SPEC2006

We move on with our analysis by using SPEC2006 on the Snapdragon 855 QRD. SPEC2006 is an important benchmark as not only does it represent a tool that is used by many companies to architect their CPU designs, but it also a very well understood and academically documented workloads that can serve as a macro-benchmark to determine microarchitectural aspects of a CPU and system.

It’s to be noted that SPEC2006 has been deprecated in favour of SPEC2017, and although we’ll switch to that at some point, for mobile platforms SPEC2006 still represents a good benchmark. Because our scores aren’t official submissions, as per SPEC guidelines we have to declare them as internal estimates from our part.

A Big Note on Power on the QRD

Although for this article I was able to collect power figures for both CPU and GPU workloads, the figures are not of an as high certitude as when measured on commercial devices. The reason for this is that much like last year’s Snapdragon 845 QRD, this year’s 855 platform reports rather high idle power in the 950-1050mW range, about 500mW more than one would expect in a final product. Because our power measurement methodology represents publishing active system power, meaning we measure total power during a given workload and subtract the idle power under the same conditions, there is a degree of uncertainty if the idle power by default is quite high.

Today’s power efficiency figures thus merely represent a guideline – and we’ll make sure to re-test the results once we get our hands on final commercial devices.

The Results – The Snapdragon 855 Performs Admirably

We’ll start off with the aggregate results and drill down in the detailed results later:

The Snapdragon 855 ends up performing extremely well, ending up neck-and-neck with the Kirin 980’s performance, which shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise.

In SPECint2006, the Snapdragon 855 performs 51% better than the Snapdragon 845, all while improving power efficiency by 39% over its predecessor. Against the Kirin 980 which is currently its nearest Android competitor, the Snapdragon just slightly edges ahead by 4%.

In SPECfp2006, the Snapdragon 855 shows an even bigger 61% leap over the Snapdragon 845, and also manages to better showcase the 9% clock speed advantage over the Kirin 980, sporting a similar performance lead.

Again what is most important in these results is the power efficiency figures. One of the things that had me worried during Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 launch in Hawaii last month is that the company pretty much avoided talking or publishing any meaningful power efficiency claims on the side of the CPU. Fortunately it seems there wasn’t any need to be concerned as the Snapdragon 855, at first glance, seems to be extremely efficient even on the high clocked 2.85GHz Prime core.

Detailed Results

Drilling down into the detailed results, the one comparison that is most interesting is the performance of the Snapdragon 855 against the Kirin 980. On one hand the Snapdragon 855 is clocked 9% higher as well as promises some tuned microarchitectural characteristics which promise to improve IPC – while on the other hand HiSilicon’s implementation is more straightforward and brings with itself a bigger L3 cache as well as memory latency advantages.

In the vast majority of workloads, both chipsets are neck-and-neck, only diverging in some key aspects. In less memory hierarchy demanding workloads, the Snapdragon more easily is able to showcase its clock speed advantage. In more latency sensitive workloads, this difference shrinks or reverses. 462.libquantum is an interesting result as Qualcomm commented that its lead here is primarily due to the customisations made on the CPU core – although they wouldn’t exactly specify which aspect in particular is bringing the boost.

The biggest performance discrepancy on the negative side of things is the 13% disadvantage in 458.sjeng – the benchmark is most sensitive to branch mispredictions and again here Qualcomm has stated they’ve made changes to the branch data structures of the core.

What is most odd for me to see as a result, is the fact that 429.mcf performs admirably well on the Snapdragon 855 – which goes against intuition given the platform’s memory latency disadvantage. It is possible here that the Snapdragon 855 performs better than the Kirin 980 due to its better L3 cache latency?

On the SPECfp2006 results, the results can be very clearly categorised into two sets: In one set the Snapdragon 855 clearly showcases a healthy advantage over the Kirin 980, up to very notable 17% and 22% leads in 447.dealII and 453.povray. In the other set, the Snapdragon is again neck-and-neck with the Kirin 980, and these happen to again be the workloads that are most memory sensitive in the FP suite.

Overall, the Snapdragon 855’s CPU performance does not disappoint. Performance on average is ahead of the Kirin 980, although not by much. Here both chipsets are most of the time neck-and-neck, and it will mostly depend on the workload which of the two will take the lead.

More important than performance, the efficiency of the Snapdragon 855 is top-notch, exceeding what I had expected from the higher clock implementation of the chip. There is still a degree of uncertainty over the power numbers on the QRD platform, but if these figures are representative of commercial devices, then 2019’s flagship will see excellent battery life.

Introduction & Specifications Inference Performance: Good, But Missing Tensor APIs
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  • Rudde - Friday, January 18, 2019 - link

    Don't cherry-pick results.
  • Rudde - Friday, January 18, 2019 - link

    What is raw performance? I could calculate som fused multiplies per second for you, but is that 'raw performance'?
  • HStewart - Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - link

    I differ with a lot on this - I think A12/A12X and other ARM related device actually perceive faster because of marketing. Also with App architexture of the OS running on such devices hide the actual performance of chips - I think it specifically depends on what you using the device. For normal word processing, emails and internet - it can easy be shown that same as U series - and this depends on which model - likely dual core x86 and possibly even AMD notebooks - but not a 4+ ghz laptop like my Dell XPS 15 2in1. Keep in mind on a phone and even android tablet or iPad there is less screen to drive. I am talking about real professional software and not apps

    One thing is interesting about 855 design is big core designed - running the primary core at higher speed then other 3 primary core - is smart - this means the primary thread is running at higher speed. I assume that smaller cores would be use threads for background tasks. Intel has a similar designed large single core and 3 minor atom based cores - I would think that device is closer on performance to A12 based devices not the U series.

    My big question is that I think it hard to actual compare performance between any x86 base and any ARM based. It depends on designed of OS and applications running on devices. I would be 100% sure any software that uses AVX 512 would blow any ARM based application with similar abilities. In fact with AVX 512 application it would be big difference with AVX 2 based computer.

    All I am saying is performance depends on application running, not just web browsing and other things
  • HStewart - Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - link

    One thing also - the speed of cpu, number of cores, or even node process does not make the performance of device - it how it used with architexture inside that makes the difference.
  • Wilco1 - Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - link

    You're absolutely wrong, A12X can keep up with your beloved laptop - this is the latest and fastest variant: http://browser.geekbench.com/v4/cpu/compare/109702...

    Single-threaded integer score is within 2.5%. Mind you that's a 10W SoC compared with a 65W CPU! I'm awaiting your list of excuses how that is possible...
  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - link

    One test on one specific thing. Try 100's
  • Wilco1 - Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - link

    No it's not one test, nor one specific thing. Like most benchmarks there are many different tests and the average is reported.
  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - link

    My point is that in a world of benchmarks, you are looking at it very myopically. ARM isnt anywhere near as fast as x86 in raw power. Very good and super efficient at alot of multimedia tasks though.
  • Wilco1 - Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - link

    What benchmarks??? Name another cross platform benchmark which is NOT a useless browser test. Apart from SPEC, Geekbench is one of the very few benchmarks that allow reasonable cross platform comparisons.
  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - link

    "cross platform" benchmarks are virtually useless. Your grasp of benchmarking in general needs work. It's not apples to apples.

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