Qualcomm just unveiled a new high-end 800-series ARM processor, and I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t Qualcomm already announce its 2021 flagship system-on-a-chip (SoC)? It did, but the new Snapdragon 870 will slot in below the flagship Snapdragon 888. The 870 is more akin to last year’s 865, but it’ll be cheaper for OEMs to build on compared with the 888.
Most of the chip specs are unchanged from the 865. This is still an eight-core ARM chip with four efficient A55 cores, three faster A77 cores, and one A77 core that operates at a higher frequency. This “Prime Core” is the primary difference between the chips. The 870’s Prime Core can hit 3.2GHz compared with 3.09GHz for the 865+. Those are both faster than the original 865 chip, which topped out at 2.84GHz. The Snapdragon 888 is a completely different part with the latest 5nm manufacturing process, a new GPU, and redesigned CPU cores.
Qualcomm also made a big improvement in the 888 that won’t be shared by the 870. Instead of the new integrated X60 5G modem, the 870 will use the same external X55 seen in the SD865 family, which makes sense from a technical standpoint. The 870 is just an 865 by another name — it used the same SM8250 silicon after all. An external modem isn’t as power-efficient as an integrated part, which has led to lackluster battery life in many 865-based phones.
We’ve been hoping to see a successor to the Snapdragon 765, but that’s not the 870. The 765 chip had six efficient cores and two high-speed, making it slightly slower than its big brother 865 (the two were announced in tandem). However, the 765 had an integrated 5G modem that made it cheaper and less of a battery hog. However, Qualcomm doesn’t see the 870 as a successor to the 765 — a true replacement for that chip is allegedly still on the way.
So, what’s the Snapdragon 870 going to be for? Qualcomm says it has already inked deals with Motorola, OnePlus, Oppo, and others to use the 870 in products launching this year. This is essentially a year-old chip design with a fresh coat of paint, and companies like OnePlus pride themselves on using the latest and greatest. Whatever they have in store probably won’t be marketed as a flagship phone — at least it shouldn’t be.