Qualcomm’s next-gen GPU will focus on VR gaming, superior camera performance
Qualcomm announced its new Adreno 530 architecture at SIGGRAPH this week, and the company has big plans for its next-generation GPU. Qualcomm has been steadily improving the performance and capability of its Adreno hardware with each successive generation, and the upcoming 530 and the lower-end variant, the 510, are no exception. What’s changed this time around is that Qualcomm doesn’t just want to provide a solution that plays common titles like Candy Crush or Game of War. The Adreno 530 is meant to address the core of the gaming market, with support for both augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR respectively).
With the Adreno 530, Qualcomm is predicting performance improvements of up to 40% compared to the older Adreno 430, while power consumption is expected to fall by 40%. Those are significant gains from a 20nm – 14nm transition, but there are ways to pull off such improvements — Nvidia’s Maxwell vastly improved performance and performance per watt over Kepler while remaining on 28nm, and it’s possible that the Adreno 430 had some low-hanging architectural fruit that Qualcomm optimized while simultaneously benefiting from the transition to 14nm. While the Adreno 430 already supports Vulkan, the Adreno 530 is the first chip designed for that API from the ground up.
The gains in video processing and GPGPU performance are also impressive. We were a bit surprised to hear Qualcomm talking up heterogeneous computing as a major focus for this chip. Thus far, AMD has been the only company to make GPGPU compute the cornerstone of its product strategy. Qualcomm already uses GPU offload for certain camera processing tasks, and the company’s video processing capabilities have taken a huge step forward in this new architecture. The Adreno 530 will be fully OpenCL 2.0 and Renderscript-compliant, The 64-bit virtual address feature is important, since the upcoming Kryo CPU is a 64-bit ARM processor. This slide implies that Qualcomm has implemented some of the same functions that AMD first debuted with Kaveri, which would make sense, since QC has always been a member of the HSA Foundation. What this means for software or ecosystem development remains to be seen.
The other side of the Adreno 530 are the improvements to the chip’s camera design. Qualcomm is calling its next-generation image signal processor (ISP) “Spectra,” and it brings a number of new features to the table.
Spectra is designed to allow for effectively zero shutter lag, improved low-light photography, offers superior digital zoom, and implements algorithms to reduce radial noise and color artifacts in hardware. The ISP supports dual front or rear cameras for depth-based photography and can perform both pre and post-processing to ensure superior image quality. Other common features like image stabilization have been improved as well. Smartphone cameras have made huge strides over the past five years, but they still pale in comparison to a DSLR in certain environments. We don’t expect that gap to vanish (there are technical reasons why high-end cameras are superior to even the best smartphones), but we’re happy to see manufacturers continue to shrink the gap.
As for the rest of the SoC, the rumor mill has been busy. Kryo will reportedly support LPDDR4 (likely) but core count rumors have been all over the map. Some have suggested that the Snapdragon 820 will top out at just four CPU cores, but as much as we’d like to see companies haul back on the core count reins, it’s not guaranteed to happen. The phone-crazy Chinese market puts a high value on CPU core counts, and Qualcomm can’t really afford to hand MediaTek or Rockchip a marketing coup. On the other hand, if the Kryo’s performance is strong enough, Qualcomm might decide to highlight its superior performance as an advantage.
Devices with Adreno 530 are expected to be in customer hands within the first half of next year. Given how long it takes to validate handsets, that implies volume production by the end of Q4 2015.
Edited by Night Hunter, 15 August 2015 - 05:46 PM.