Today Qualcomm is making a rather unexpected SoC announcement in the form of the new Snapdragon 870. The chip is a rather odd release in Qualcomm’s chipset line-up in that this is actually a part derived from last year’s Snapdragon 865 series, with the new model being a new silicon bin that ups the clock frequencies for a small boost in performance, even though it’s getting a model name that would indicate more substantial changes (of which there aren’t).

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SKUs
SoC Snapdragon 865 Snapdragon 865+

Snapdragon 870

CPU 1x Cortex A77
@ 2.84GHz 1x512KB pL2

3x Cortex A77
@ 2.42GHz 3x256KB pL2

4x Cortex A55
@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2

4MB sL3 @ ?MHz
1x Cortex A77
@ 3.09GHz 1x512KB pL2

3x Cortex A77
@ 2.42GHz 3x256KB pL2

4x Cortex A55
@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2

4MB sL3 @ ?MHz
1x Cortex A77
@ 3.2GHz 1x512KB pL2

3x Cortex A77
@ 2.42GHz 3x256KB pL2

4x Cortex A55
@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2

4MB sL3 @ ?MHz
GPU Adreno 650 @ 587 MHz Adreno 650 @ 670MHz
DSP / NPU Hexagon 698

(Total CPU+GPU+HVX+Tensor)
4x 16-bit CH

@ 2133MHz LPDDR4X / 33.4GB/s
@ 2750MHz LPDDR5  /  44.0GB/s

3MB system level cache
ISP/Camera Dual 14-bit Spectra 480 ISP

1x 200MP

64MP ZSL or 2x 25MP ZSL

4K video & 64MP burst capture
8K30 / 4K120 10-bit H.265

Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG

720p960 infinite recording
Integrated Modem none
(Paired with external X55 only)

(LTE Category 24/22)
DL = 2500 Mbps
7x20MHz CA, 1024-QAM
UL = 316 Mbps
3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)
DL = 7000 Mbps
UL = 3000 Mbps
Mfc. Process TSMC
7nm (N7P)

Still being based off the “SM8250” silicon chip design that we saw employed in the Snapdragon 865 and Snapdragon 865+ last year, the new Snapdragon 870 is also part of this family, with it being the “AC” suffix SKU on the aforementioned part model number.

The specification changes compared to the Snapdragon 865+ which was released last summer are rather limited and, only concern the prime CPU core: The fastest Cortex-A77 core here goes up from 3.09GHz to 3.2GHz.

Qualcomm’s rationale for calling it the Snapdragon 870 is simply that they didn’t want to go the route of using something like a “Snapdragon 865 Plus Plus”, though I would argue that calling it a “Snapdragon 865 Pro” or “Snapdragon 866” might have been a bit more representative of what the chip is.

The release of this new SKU is quite weird, as it’s the first time ever that Qualcomm has announced a refresh of a last-generation part following the announcement and commercial release of their latest flagship SoC, that being the newer Snapdragon 888.

In today’s press release, Qualcomm shares that key customers such as Motorola, iQOO, OnePlus, OPPO and Xiaomi will be making use of the Snapdragon 870 in a selection of flagship devices this year. That’s also indeed quite weird, as in the past we’ve rarely seen vendors release new phones based on a past-year SoC design.

One theory I had is that because this generation we haven’t yet seen a successor to the Snapdragon 765 (which had been announced in 2019 in tandem with the 865), and that maybe instead of making a dedicated SoC in that “premium” SoC range, the company could recycle previous-year flagship SoCs, a tactic which in my view could be perfectly valid and viable. The company however dismissed the idea, disclosing that the new 870 not meant to replace the 765, and that a true successor to the 765 will be coming further down the line.

So it seems that this year we’ll be seeing new contemporary smartphone designs with both the Snapdragon 888 as well as the Snapdragon 870 in the flagship segment, which will be quite interesting to see how that plays out in terms of performance, feature, and especially pricing differentiation.

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  • Kangal - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    Samsung 5nm is going to be more expensive than TSMC 7nm, and the QSD 888 is a larger die-size. That's because the QSD 888 is a monolithic SoC (internal radios), whereas the QSD 865-870 Plus have external radios (chiplet design?).

    Samsung has yield issues unlike TSMC, but TSMC has better quality wafers so they demand a more premium price. Apple has probably tapped almost all of TSMCs 5nm supplies for their iMacs, iPads, and ofcourse The iPhone.

    Secondly, OEMs now demand a lower price from Qualcomm due to market collapse. So the QSD 870 is like a better quality QSD 765G SoC, if you recall last year's model releases. The QSD 870 is also cheaper for Qualcomm as prices for 7nm-TSMC would've dropped slightly, and they need basically no re-engineering, making it a cheap for them to reintroduce.

    Besides, Qualcomm's done this many times in the past, although it has always been isolated to their low-end and midrange chipsets. And we've known for a while that this sort of thing was coming ever since the QSD 820/821 or "Plus" upgrades.... why? Because there's very little competition for Qualcomm (Apple is in another market, Nvidia's out, Samsung's struggling, HiSilicon and MediaTek lack the market, staff and funding to compete effectively).
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    The 888 seems to be quite "power hungry", and not just like an authoritarian politician, but for Wh. That'd be a real downer for the ever-slimmer flagships with smaller batteries that are still what phone makers are rolling out.
  • dudedud - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    Wouldn't this be even more inefficient than the 865+?

    Unless QC sells it quite cheap I don't see how any OEM would prefer it over the regular or plus version.
  • LiviuTM - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    Not necessarily so, most likely it's manufactured on an updated N7P process. As times goes by and the foundries become more familiar with a specific process, the process is tweaked and optimized and the PDK is updated accordingly, leading to better yields and better performing silicon.
  • iphonebestgamephone - Thursday, January 21, 2021 - link

    Isnt that what happened with the 865+? And it was inefficient.
  • gijames1225 - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    How is the 5g bundling handled? If this requires a separate chip (and mandates 5g to the OEM) then I'd be surprised if the pricing is all that great compared to the 888.
  • serendip - Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - link

    Expect poor battery life if 5G and 4G(?) require separate chips. This weird release might be a stopgap measure to make up for low SD888 yields so that smartphone makers have enough chips to go around.
  • Peskarik - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    Reminds me of Intel somehow...
  • dullard - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    Because people can't come up with anything useful to the discussion, so they bash model numbers and plus signs instead?
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    I wonder if this isn't also a backup option in case the 888 is indeed a bit of a power hog. Some initial tests with the Mi11 suggested that the 888 is yes, fast, but does like to eat battery for breakfast, so you'd need a recharge by lunchtime. The 870 might just be the more practical option. Now waiting for a test of the 888, maybe Andrei proves me all wrong on this.

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