The Premium Segment SoC gets a Cortex-X CPU core

After a 2021/2022 product cycle, it was a little more ininteresting than Qualcomm might have liked, 2023 has been a far more straightforward year for the prolific SoC and cellular modem supplier. After releasing the first of its Gen 2 family of parts earlier this year with the flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, the company is preparing to iterate the next step in its product stack with the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2. Aimed at what has been Qualcomm’s traditional $400 to $600 “premium” market segment, which focuses on flagship-level features with more modest performance and cost, for the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2, Qualcomm aims to deliver a significant performance boost to the platform.

Positioned as the successor to last year’s Snapdragon 7 Gen 1, this year’s iteration of the Snapdragon 7 is broadly more focused on improving performance than adding features. While last year’s Gen 1 installment added mmWave support and new CPU and GPU architectures – most notably Armv9 architecture CPU cores – this year only has a handful of new features. Instead, though, it’s what Qualcomm is touting as one of their biggest performance boosts ever for the Snapdragon 7 family. This is largely enabled by a much-welcomed pivot from Samsung’s beleaguered 4nm process to TSMC’s 4nm process, mirroring the switch Qualcomm made last year to the well-received mid-cycle Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 part.

Also new this year, Qualcomm is dropping hints that this won’t be the only Snapdragon 7 Gen 2 part we see this year, in light of the decision to launch their first Gen 2 part as the 7+ instead of the 7. In a nutshell, launching as a Snapdragon 7+ part gives Qualcomm room to launch a vanilla Snapdragon 7 part later. To be sure, Qualcomm isn’t explicitly announcing such a part now, but there’s little reason to launch a 7+ first unless they had plans for something below that; otherwise they could have launched it as 7-part ala Snapdragon 7 Gen 1, which was always a one-chip stack.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 7-class SoCs
SoC Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2
Snapdragon 7 Gen 1
CPU 1x Cortex-X2
@ 2.91GHz3x Cortex-A710
@ 2.49GHz

4x Cortex-A510
@ 1.8 GHz

1x Cortex-A710
@ 2.4 GHz3x Cortex-A710
@ 2.36GHz

4x Cortex-A510
@ 1.8 GHz

GPU Adreno Adreno
DSP/NPU Hexagon Hexagon
2x 16-bit CH

@ 3200MHz LPDDR5 / 25.6 GB/s

2x 16-bit CH

@ 3200MHz LPDDR5 / 25.6 GB/s

ISP/Camera Triple 18-bit Spectra ISP

1x 200MP or 108MP with ZSL
64+36MP with ZSL
3x 32MP with ZSL

4K HDR video and 64 MP burst recording

Triple 14-bit Spectra ISP

1x 200MP or 84MP with ZSL
64+20MP with ZSL
3x 25MP with ZSL

4K HDR video and 64 MP burst recording

4K60 10-bit H.265

Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG

1080p240 Slow motion recording

4K30 10-bit H.265

Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG

720p480 Slow motion recording

Integrated modem X62 integrated

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)

DL = 4400 Mbps
5G/4G Dual Active SIM (DSDA)

X62 integrated

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)

DL = 4400 Mbps

Mfc. Treat TSMC 4nm Samsung 4nm

In terms of CPU organization, the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 retains the same 1+3+4 CPU core configuration that we’ve seen in the past few generations of the Snapdragon 7 family. The big news here is that the high-performance Prime core gets a significant performance boost as Qualcomm switches from using a slightly higher clocked mid-core to using a more performant CPU architecture entirely.

So, for the first time ever for a Snapdragon 7 part, Qualcomm is pushing one of Arm’s Cortex-X cores into the Prime core. The Cortex-X2 used here is technically Arm’s previous generation design, so it won’t step on the toes of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and its Cortex-X3 core. However, compared to the A710 core used for 7 Gen 1’s Prime core (and 7+ Gen 2’s intermediate cores), the Cortex-X2 represents a significant improvement in both IPC and clock speeds. As a result, the maximum clock speed of the Prime core has gone from 2.4GHz to 2.91GHz, further enhanced by the IPC gains of the more complex core.

Overall, Qualcomm is touting an “up to” 50% CPU performance improvement for the 7+ Gen 2 over the 7 Gen 1; pretty much all of this comes from the new Prime core.

The trade-off is that such a large performance boost is really only available for single-threaded workloads since there is only one Cortex-X2 core. The three middle (performance) cores are again Cortex-A710 based, and are clocked as much as 2% higher than before. As such, 7+ Gen 1 won’t see big gains on heavily multi-threaded workloads. The improved power efficiency of TSMC’s 4nm process should pay some dividends there, but some of those gains have been invested in making the power-hungry Cortex-X2 viable from a battery life perspective.

Meanwhile, the 7+ Gen 2 also incorporates a faster Adreno GPU. As has been the case with Qualcomm’s integrated GPUs for a few generations now, the company isn’t assigning a product number to it—let alone revealing significant architectural details—so there’s a limited amount of details we can share. Based on the feature list, it doesn’t look like this uses the newer GPU architecture from 8 Gen 2; so it looks like Qualcomm incorporated a larger version of their existing GPU and almost certainly gave it a healthy clockspeed boost.

Whatever the case, GPU performance expectations for the new SoC are significant: Qualcomm boasts a massive 2x performance improvement over 7 Gen 1 – a platform that only delivered 20% more than its own predecessor. While these aren’t flagship SoCs, Qualcomm still likes to position the Snapdragon 7 series as a good match for gaming smartphones, especially in China, so it’s not too surprising to see Qualcomm investing so heavily in GPU performance.

All told, Qualcomm is touting a 13% improvement in power efficiency over the 7 Gen 1, at least on an “extended daily use” basis. The move to TSMC’s 4nm process should pay significant dividends, as evidenced by last year’s 8+ Gen 1 part, but at the same time, it’s clear that Qualcomm has invested a good portion of those gains into improving overall performance.

The Dragon is fed by a 32-bit (dual 16-bit) LPDDR5 memory controller. Unlike the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, the 7+ Gen 2 doesn’t get support for faster LPDDR5X memory, meaning the status quo prevails for the Snapdragon 7 family. In this case, that means support for memory speeds up to LPDDR5-6400, which equates to 25.6 GB/second of memory bandwidth. In contrast to the significant CPU and GPU performance increases, much more pressure will be placed on Qualcomm’s cache and memory subsystem to keep the various processing blocks fed.

Speaking of which, it’s not just the CPU and GPU blocks that have seen big performance increases. Qualcomm’s Hexagon DSP/AI engine block has also received a significant performance tweak, rivaling the 2x increase to the GPU. Qualcomm was light on technical details here, but our briefing didn’t mention features like INT4 or micro-tiling – two main features of the next-generation Hexagon block on 8 Gen 2 – so it seems likely that this is a vastly improved version of Hexagon -block used on the previous 7 Gen 1.

One piece of Snapdragon 8 technology that is making its way down to the Snapdragon 7, however, is its triple 18-bit Spectra ISP. Replacing the 14-bit unit in previous generations of the platform, the 18-bit unit on the 7+ Gen 2 will provide support for triple exposure calculation, HDR video recording, as well as improved low-light photography, which Qualcomm calls their Mega Low Light feature. The end result is that the 7+ Gen 2 can record at higher resolutions when using zero shutter lag functionality, and combined with the updated GPU, it can now record 4K video at up to 60 fps, doubling the 7 Gen 1’s 4K30 limit.

Finally, the package is a repeat of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X62 integrated modem. Like last year’s SoC, this is a mmWave + Sub-6 Release 16 design that can achieve a theoretical maximum download speed of 4.4 Gbps. However, this year’s design comes with a twist: dual SIM dual active (DSDA) support, which is another first for the Snapdragon 7 platform. Both active radios on the 7+ Gen 2 support 5G and 4G communications, allowing dual SIM users to use pretty much whatever network they want on both radios. This is another premium feature that until now had been limited to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 platform.

As for non-cellular connectivity, the 7+ Gen 2 uses a FastConnect 6900 radio system. This is a relatively modest update compared to the previous 6700 radio, increasing Bluetooth support to version 5.3 of the protocol and increasing the peak bandwidth of the 2×2 stream Wi-Fi 6E radio to 3.6 Gbps thanks to dual-band simultaneous (DBS) support.

In conclusion, the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 will hit the market very soon. According to Qualcomm, handsets using the SoC will be available later this month, with Redmi and Realme among the OEMs set to release phones based on the new chip.

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