Last month, a user by the handle of Ice_Universe (via WCCFTech), who has in the past leaked information about upcoming mobile processors, claimed that Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) upcoming Snapdragon 845 mobile processor, which is likely to power the bulk of the Android flagships released during 2018, achieves a single-core score of between 2,600 and 2,700 in the popular mobile-processor performance test called Geekbench 4.
Qualcomm's best smartphone applications processor, the Snapdragon 835, achieves a single-core score of about 2000. Mid-range and lower-end processors typically score substantially lower than that.
Here's why this result is probably legitimate.
What to expect from the Snapdragon 845
This year's Snapdragon 835 is built using Samsung's (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) 10-nanometer LPE, or "low power early," manufacturing technology. Given Qualcomm's close collaboration with Samsung in recent years, the Snapdragon 845 is likely to be manufactured in Samsung's 10-nanometer LPP, or "low power plus," manufacturing technology.
Samsung claims 10-nanometer LPP offers more performance for the same power consumption or the same performance at lower power consumption compared with 10-nanometer LPE. This should translate into better performance for the Snapdragon 845 while keeping power consumption in check. Furthermore, the Snapdragon 835 uses what Qualcomm refers to as Kryo 280 processor cores, which AnandTech believes are either customized versions of ARM Holdings' Cortex A72 or Cortex A73 cores.
It seems likely, then, that the Snapdragon 845 will use customized version of ARM Holdings' Cortex A75 processor core.
ARM Holdings says the Cortex A75 delivers 34% more performance in Geekbench 4 than the prior-generation Cortex A73. Applying this advertised gain to the Geekbench 4 score of the Snapdragon 835 of about 2,000 in the Geekbench 4 single-core test yields a score of 2,680.
That's right within the 2,600-2,700 range Ice_Universe posted.
What does this mean for Qualcomm?
Qualcomm is essentially unopposed in the premium portion of the merchant smartphone applications processor market. MediaTek tried but failed miserably to take a piece of Qualcomm's premium smartphone chip business. Its biggest competition comes in the form of major premium smartphone chip manufacturers that are opting to build their own applications processors.
Companies that do build their own chips often license the same basic ARM-designed CPU cores that other companies do. The areas of differentiation for these companies tend to be unrelated to general-purpose CPU performance.
For example, Huawei's new Kirin 970, which is expected to power its upcoming high-end Mate 10 flagship smartphones, uses off-the-shelf ARM Cortex A73/A53 cores and an ARM Mali graphics processor, but its main point of differentiation seems to be a dedicated artificial-intelligence processor, which Huawei appears to have licensed from, or perhaps co-developed with, a third party.
Building a faster chip isn't going to stop the other high-end smartphone vendors that wish to build their own chips, and customers aren't likely to choose a Qualcomm-based phone over a non-Qualcomm-based one over Geekbench 4 performance tests, either. Neither will the exact performance capabilities of the Snapdragon 845 be all that important to investors.