For a few years now, we’ve seen affordable phones become competitive options that are able to satisfy the needs of more and more customers. As OEMs shifted their focus towards emergent markets, cost became a premier concern and mid-range components were put into the spotlight. Qualcomm’s 600 series best exemplifies this shift in enthusiast minds, as its chips found their way into over 1,450 designs according to Qualcomm. The company recently announced a new chip in the family with the Snapdragon 632, a solid offering that brought some needed upgrades, but fell short of the Snapdragon 710 announced earlier this year, as well as last year’s Snapdragon 660. In order to fill this small gap, Qualcomm has announced another 600 series chipset: meet the Snapdragon 670 mobile platform.
Before going into the details, here’s a quick refresher on the current state of the 600 series. The company unveiled the Snapdragon 660 and 630 in May of 2017, and while those chipsets seemingly didn’t earn as many designs as the still-relevant Snapdragon 625/626, they marked an important change of direction for the line-ups. The 660 had brought a set of semi-custom cortex-A73 cores on their performance cluster, built in 14nm LPP process over the previous-gen 28nm HPM which had gotten long in the tooth. These semi-custom Kryo 260 cores could actually perform closer to the premium tier (Snapdragon 835 at the time) than any other mid-range chip had been able to, with the main differences residing in lower CPU frequencies, a smaller L2 cache, and a slower GPU with the Adreno 512. The Snapdragon 630 had also brought 14nm LPP in an A53 octa-core configuration, adding some important features to the mid-end like Bluetooth 5 and LPDDR4 RAM support. We then saw a “successor” to the 660 is with the recently-announced Snapdragon 710 (which was once rumored to be the chipset unveiled today), while the 632 announced in June is a clear successor to the Snapdragon 630.
The Snapdragon 660 was a surprisingly performant chipset, so it made sense for Qualcomm to build upon it with the Snapdragon 710 and its give that its own semi-premium discrete category. With the 670, the company is aiming to bring a healthy speed bump over the 660 while still remaining behind the 710 in both performance and feature capabilities. Throughout this article, we’ll thus be comparing the 670 to both last year’s 660 and this year’s 710.
First things first, the Snapdragon 670 is built on 10nm LPP process technology, which by itself should suggest modest gains over its predecessor’s 14nm LPP fabrication. This puts it on even footing with the Snapdragon 710, and moreover, this is also the first chipset in the 600 series to feature a Kryo 360 CPU. Just like with the 710, the Kryo 360 of the Snapdragon 670 is a semi-custom core design, delivered in concert with the system architecture while providing some quality of service optimizations. The Built on ARM Cortex license is still quite limiting, but the results should be promising and knowing what these cores are based on should give us a good idea on what to expect as well.
The two Kryo 360 A75-based Gold (performance) cores are clocked up to 2.0GHz, while the six A55-based Silver (efficiency) cores are clocked up to 1.7GHz. We also find L1 cache of 64KB and 32KB (Gold/Silver) and L2 cache of 256KB and 128KB (Gold/Silver), as well as a shared 1MB L3 cache as seen on the more powerful Snapdragon chipsets. Qualcomm states that we should expect up to 15% higher performance over the 660’s 4+4 Kryo 260 setup, which featured A73 and A53-based cores clocked up to 2.2GHz and 1.8GHz respectively. It’s also worth noting that the 670’s setup is very similar to that of the 710, which offered 20% faster performance over the 660, with the main difference being that its Gold cores were clocked 200Mhz higher than those of the 670.
Moving on to graphics, we also see the 600 series receive a high-caliber GPU with the Adreno 615, which Qualcomm claims can offer 25% faster graphics rendering than the Adreno 512 found in the Snapdragon 660. For comparison, the Adreno 616 of the 710 promised a 35% uplift over that same GPU, so this new offering sits neatly in the middle. As expected, the Snapdragon 670 is capable of powering FHD+ displays, while the 710 offers the ability to scale up to QHD+ for higher-resolution panels (both still support Ultra HD video playback). You’ll also find support for Open GL ES 3.2, Open CL 2.0 as well as Vulkan graphics and Qualcomm is once again stressing that the GPU can aid AI workloads and heterogeneous compute use-cases.
Speaking of AI, with the Snapdragon 670 the company is bundling in the powerful Hexagon 685 DSP, found in both the Snapdragon 710 and 845. We’ve had plenty to say about this particular component in the past, but in short it’ll help with AI workloads by offering great compute capabilities at lower power consumption. All in all, Qualcomm claims that this chipset’s AI Engine (meaning the DSP, GPU and CPU) can output 1.8x the AI performance of the Snapdragon 660. As usual, you’ll also find support for the Snapdragon Neural Processing SDK, Hexagon NN and Android NN API, and popular ML frameworks such as Caffe/Caffe2, TensorFlow/Lite, and ONNX (Open Neural Network Exchange).
Other important details include the upgraded Spectra 250 ISP (as seen on the 710), for 25MP single camera or 16MP dual camera support. Features include improved stabilization, active depth-sensing, multi-frame (sampling multiple frames for image composition, built into the hardware) noise-reduction and super resolution, as well as slow motion video capture and 4K video recording (30 fps) at 30% lower power over the 660. For connectivity, we have 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, and the Snapdragon X12 LTE modem for 600Mbps (Cat 15) downlink and 150Mbps (Cat 13) uplink (the Snapdragon 710 features the X20 LTE modem for 1.2Gbps DL). As for memory, expect up to 8GB of LPDDR4x RAM (2×16-bit, up to 1866MHz) on Snapdragon 670 devices. Finally, you’ll also find the expected Aqstic audio codec and aptX audio playback, as well as Quick Charge 4+ for faster charging speeds.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 670 Brings Yet More Options to Choose From
The Snapdragon 670 continues the trend of mid-tier chipsets seeing premium features make their way downstream, achieving further feature parity with the most powerful mobile platforms in the market. Qualcomm has also expanded its chipset portfolio in 2018, namely with the inclusion of a sub-premium category through the Snapdragon 710. And, as you can probably tell from the details above, the Snapdragon 670 has a lot in common with the Snapdragon 710… to put it mildly. With the recently-announced 632, 439 and 429 chips, the company is now offering a smoother gradient of options for OEMs to choose from, hitting more performance-price ratios that should lead to further-diversified portfolios in today’s competitive market, and in the increasingly-fierce mid-range segment in particular. With all of these Snapdragon releases, it might have been hard for some enthusiasts to make sense of Qualcomm’s strategy, though now that all the pieces seem to be in place, we get to see a much clearer picture.
The Snapdragon 670 mobile platform is available now, with commercial devices expected later this year. We’ll be keeping an eye on future releases and, if possible, go hands-on to test just how much of an impact these performance boosts and feature inclusions really make.