WAILEA, Hawaii — Qualcomm described and showed working silicon of its next-generation flagship SoC, the Snapdragon 845, at an event here. The chip is a significant, but stepwise enhancement of its 835 widely used in smartphones and angling for new kinds of sockets including PCs with cellular modems.

The SoC sports redesigned CPU and GPU blocks and a new layer of cache to boost performance 25-30 percent and support features such as Ultra HD Premium video encoding. The advance is impressive given the SoC is built in the Samsung 10nm node and fits in the same 12mm2 package as the 835.

The 845 debuts at a precarious time for the chip vendor that dominates a maturing smartphone market. Qualcomm is trying to close an acquisition of NXP to extend its reach into automotive and the Internet of Things. Meanwhile, rival Broadcom launched a hostile takeover bid that could radically alter its structure and culture.

Analysts generally praised the chip and were upbeat on Qualcomm’s market position, but expressed uncertainty about its future as a standalone company.

The 845 is “a significant upgrade — to get 25-30 percent performance in the same general process node is huge…they touched every part of the SoC,” said Jim McGregor, principal of Tirias Research.

Qualcomm dominates premium smartphones except for Apple, Huawei and Samsung handsets using in-house chips. Meanwhile its closest rival among merchant suppliers, Mediatek, has been late with its last two parts, he said.

Separately, Mediatek announced three of its SoCs will appear early next year in entry-level and mainstream handsets with up to a Gbyte of memory running Android Oreo (Go edition). Mediatek SoCs ran second to Snapdragon which was used in 46 percent of global Android smartphones that shipped in the first three quarters of 2017, according to International Data Corp.

Qualcomm showed several demos with working 845 chips. (Images EE Times)
Qualcomm showed several demos with working 845 chips. (Images EE Times)

McGregor expects Qualcomm will close its bid to buy NXP, but doubts the combined company can escape Broadcom, known for slashing costs and selling off parts of the companies it buys. “From a financial perspective it looks almost inevitable,” that shareholders will approve the bid by Broadcom which has seen its stock price soar ahead of Qualcomm over the last five years, McGregor said. 

“The only thing that might change it is if Qualcomm completes the NXP deal then quickly goes after another company such as Marvell/Cavium,” he added.

“It would be a sorry, sorry day for the industry if Broadcom is successful — it will demoralize employees, there will be a brain drain and Broadcom will end up with an empty shell,” said Jon Peddie, principal of Jon Peddie Research.

Qualcomm is nearly alone in designing custom GPU, DSP and other cores for its mobile SoC. With the exception of Apple that Peddie believes will add a custom DSP to its portfolio soon, others generally use licensed cores, he said.

The 845 is “more than an upgrade, they have re-architected three major components — all three of which contribute to AI and connected PCs," Peddie said. The biggest advance is its support for an Ultra HD Premium video standard that will make 845 handsets “as good if not better than the best TVs,” Peddie said, adding he expects derivatives of the chip will power future TVs.

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