Qualcomm Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 / Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 chip released

Qualcomm today unveiled a new SoC for the mid-range and entry-level smartphone market. Qualcomm refreshed its long-standing 600 and 400 series chips, announcing the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 and Snapdragon 4 Gen 1. Both SoCs have received a similar spec boost, with newer and faster IP blocks such as Arm Cortex-A78-derived CPU cores and a move to newer, more modern manufacturing processes.

Following Qualcomm's extensive cascading IP strategy, both SoC lineups in this generation have migrated to the Cortax-A78 CPU as their primary CPU core, and on the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1, the number of high-performance CPU cores has doubled. Both SoCs also feature faster Adreno GPUs, but Qualcomm hasn't provided many details about the underlying hardware.

It's worth noting that Qualcomm's 2023 mid/low-end components didn't jump to Armv9 architecture. Unlike the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Snapdragon 7 Gen 1, which feature Arm's new Armv9 core, Qualcomm's cascading strategy means the Snapdragon 6 and 4 series will be left behind, but it won't have much impact on users.

Like the rest of the simplified "Gen" series, this also means that Qualcomm is doing away with individual models of its Kyro/Hexagon/Adreno/Spectra modules.

Snapdragon 6 Gen 1

The Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 uses an unknown 4nm process (Qualcomm has not specified whether it is Samsung or TSMC), replacing the upcoming Snapdragon 695. Along the way, there were some major updates to the CPU for camera, memory, and modem modules.

Qualcomm also updated the Hexagon DSP/AI module for its latest 6-series chips. The unnamed IP version is one of Qualcomm's "7th generation" designs, which means that in addition to vector and scalar processing, it also includes tensor processing capabilities primarily aimed at accelerating AI inference.

As for the camera/ISP, Qualcomm uses a triple 12-bit ISP with some modest performance improvements in pixel throughput. The Snapdragon 6 series (re)introduced HDR support, and Qualcomm is the first to support computational HDR on this type of SoC. As a result, the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 can handle 4K HDR video recording at up to 30fps.

Last but not least, Qualcomm has also significantly upgraded the SoC's wireless capabilities, including cellular and Wi-Fi communications. On the cellular side, the chip integrates a Snapdragon X62-class modem that supports sub-6 and mmWave frequency bands. Qualcomm did not provide details on transfer speeds, but the modem could theoretically achieve download speeds of up to 2.9Gbps ​​on 5G. Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi radio gets an upgrade, replacing the outdated Wi-Fi 5 FastConnect 6200 with a more modern Wi-Fi 6E based on its FastConnect 6700 IP.

Mobile phones using new SoCs such as Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 will be released and available in the first quarter of 2023.

Snapdragon 4 Gen 1

Meanwhile, the entry-level Qualcomm SoC is the new Snapdragon 4 Gen 1. Unlike the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1, Qualcomm didn't update the chip extensively, but the Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 still offers some modest improvements over its predecessor, the Snapdragon 480.

On the CPU side, the Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 gets the same Cortex-A78 upgrade as the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1, pairing the cores with Cortex-A55 cores in a 2+6 configuration. In terms of architectural improvements, this is actually a bigger step than the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1, as the Snapdragon 4 series previously used Cortex-A76 cores. Nonetheless, since the CPU frequency is still capped at 2.0GHz, all performance gains come entirely from CPU architecture improvements. Overall, Qualcomm claims a 15% increase in CPU performance.

As for the GPU, the Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 gets the Adreno GPU upgrade. Qualcomm says GPU performance is (up to) 10% faster. But since Qualcomm didn't upgrade the memory controller -- the Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 still uses LPDDR4X-4266 memory on a 32-bit bus there aren't any memory bandwidth improvements to support a significantly faster GPU.

The camera/ISP block of the Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 SoC is also very similar to its predecessor, with Qualcomm using a triple 12-bit ISP. The notable improvement is that Qualcomm has significantly increased the maximum photo resolution to 108MP, nearly doubling the number of pixels in a single shot, and in the process rivaling what the more powerful Snapdragon 6-series SoCs can do .

At the same time, there are signs that mmWave adoption in phones is not as high as Qualcomm originally planned, and the Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 wireless kit is something of a step backwards. The 5G Snapdragon X51 modem finally dropped support for mmWave and only supports sub-6 bands. Still, that's more than enough to support download speeds of up to 2.5Gbps, and upload speeds are now up to 900Mbps. The Wi-Fi radio also remains the same, with Qualcomm using Wi-Fi 5 plus Bluetooth 5.2 based on its FastConnect 6200 IP.

Finally, the Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 is based on TSMC's 6nm process. According to Qualcomm, phones based on the SoC will ship soon and are expected to be available by the end of this quarter.

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