Powerful new Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus headed for gaming phones

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The rumors were true: Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G platform on Wednesday, offering faster CPU and GPU clock speeds, upgraded Wi-Fi, plus 5G modem support.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G platform (also referred to as the Snapdragon 865 Plus, when speaking about the chip itself) is essentially an upgraded version of the Snapdragon 865 chip the company unveiled last December for premium smartphones. The Snapdragon 865 introduced a host of new features, including camera upgrades, AI, security, and gaming. The Snapdragon 865 was designed around Qualcomm’s standalone X55 5G modem, and the Snapdragon 865 Plus is as well, though neither is integrated. Both the 865 and the 865 Plus are 7nm chips.

Almost all of the features on both the Snapdragon 865 and 865 Plus are common to both platforms. The Kryo 585 CPU, the Adreno 650 GPU, the Hexagon 698 DSP and the Spectra 480 image signal processing remain in place. Qualcomm left the associated memory unchanged.

What’s different are the clock speeds and subsequent performance improvements. The Kryo 585 in the Snapdragon 865 Plus is now clocked at 3.1GHz, versus 2.84GHz, a 10-percent performance increase, Qualcomm said. Qualcomm didn’t release the speed of the Adreno 650, but the company said performance increased by 10 percent there, too.

Qualcomm snapdragon elite gaming badge Qualcomm

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Elite Gaming represents the company’s foray into mobile gaming…

Gaming appears to be a key focus for the Snapdragon 865 Plus, as it was for the Snapdragon 765G in the prior generation. That chip bumped up the clock speed (compared to the regular Snapdragon 765) to attract mobile gamers, and it added a Snapdragon Elite Gaming package, whose features included PC-like graphics effects and downloadable driver updates. All of those Elite Gaming features are included with the Snapdragon 865 Plus, too.

Broadcom may have been the first to ship a Wi-Fi 6E chip for mobile devices, but Wi-Fi 6E represents the other major upgrade to the Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G. Now that the FCC has opened up additional channels for Wi-Fi, Qualcomm’s new FastConnect 6900 can tap into the new 6GHz spectral band and 160GHz channels. In the real world, that means gobs more bandwidth, provided there’s a Wi-Fi 6E router feeding the beast. It all translates into 3.6Gbps peak throughput, versus 1.774Gbps with the Snapdragon 865’s FastConnect 6800 subsystem.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 game smoother Mark Hachman / IDG

…with PC-like features such as support for adaptive-rate displays.

What hasn’t changed is Qualcomm’s insistence that phone makers bundle the X55 5G modem as part of the Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G chipset. Phone journalists spent much of 2019 jetting to odd locales and testing the bandwidth of 5G’s mmWave and sub-6GHz modes, as carriers slowly ramped up their coverage areas and solidified their messaging.

The current pandemic has likely slowed down demand as most people stick closer to home. As regions of the world phase back to some level of normal activity, travelers will thirst again for wide, deep channels of data flowing back and forth from their phones. It’s also true, however, that adding a 5G modem will tack on some additional cost to phones at a time when economies worldwide are reeling from the pandemic’s effects.

Still, Qualcomm says more than 140 devices have been designed around the Snapdragon 865, or are in the works. We already have a couple of Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G phones waiting in the wings: Asus has preannounced the ROG Phone 3, and Lenovo’s extending its Legion gaming brand to phones. These phones will begin shipping in the third quarter, Qualcomm said. All in all, if you’re looking for a fast Android phone for gaming, chances are that the Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G will be inside. 

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