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Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 benchmarked, 4K video from a tablet

We take a close look at all the features built into Qualcomm's latest Snapgradon 800 mobile processor, including 4K video capture and playback

If you’re buying a smartphone this year, there’s a good chance it will be powered by a Qualcomm processor. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (at least the UK variant anyway), the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z all use the Snapdragon 600, and now the more powerful Snapdragon 800 is making its way into tablets and phablet devices like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. We got the chance to try out a Snapdragon 800 development unit at Qualcomm’s London event yesterday, putting it through its paces with a thorough set of benchmarks, as well as exploring the chip’s new multimedia features.

Despite only taking up 15% of a Snapdragon 800 chip, the central processing unit (CPU) is a seriously powerful bit of silicon. Manufactured on a 28nm process, the developer tablets we tested were running at 2.3GHz, making them the highest clock speed of any handheld we’ve seen.

Paired with 2GB of RAM, the tablet was able to produce a thumping score of 20138 in the Quadrant benchmark, making it more than five times faster than the Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU powering HTC’s One X. It also outpaced Google’s Nexus 10 and more than doubled Apple’s iPad 4 in the Geekbench multi-platform benchmark, with a score of 4,098.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800

As the above diagram shows, the other 85% of the chip is dedicated to multimedia, imaging, GPS and connectivity, with support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi, USB3, Bluetooth 4.0, Miracast and 4G LTE built into the specification. Whether all these features get used is dependent on the manufacturer, but integrated LTE support will hopefully lead to more 4G-ready devices in the coming months.

Qualcomm has updated the Adreno 320 graphics processing unit (GPU) with support for OpenGL 3.0, DirectX and OpenCL for the Snapdragon 800, along with compatibility with Epic’s Unreal engine and the Unity game engine. The GPU runs at 450MHz and proved more than capable of rendering the Epic Citadel tech demo smoothly at 1080p resolution.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800

It also produced some of the highest scores in the latest version of 3DMark we’ve seen from a mobile device, posting 13651 in the Ice Storm Extreme test. To put this in perspective, the fastest smartphones are scoring around half that on Snapdragon 600 processors.

Although it’s incredibly powerful, Snapdragon 800 should also be fairly frugal when it comes to battery life. Qualcomm says that the new manufacturing process should put it roughly on par with existing Snapdragon 600 devices, despite the boost in performance.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800

Each of the four cores can scale its clock speed independently of the others too, which should help keep battery consumption to a minimum when running less demanding tasks.

Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 2.0 ports should mean compatible devices charge 65% faster than they would without the technology, so even when you do run out of power you won’t have to wait around to get juiced up again.

Beyond raw performance, the Snapdragon 800 also includes a set of multimedia codecs that add support for 4K video capture and decoding. During the event, a developer smartphone unit was shown recording 4K video at 20mbit/s, which was then beamed to a tablet using a Toshiba TransferJet dongle – it’s currently one of the fastest ways to transfer large files directly between devices, with a 560Mbps throughput. The results were then played at their native resolution on a Sony 4K TV. It might not have been the most professional Ultra HD footage we’ve seen, but there was no question that the level of detail was impressive from a smartphone.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800

The multimedia chip is also able to decode 7.1 surround sound audio streams for playback through an external speaker system. We were shown 4k clips from Star Trek: Into Darkness and the upcoming Pacific Rim, with both filling Qualcomm’s demo room with accurate surround sound. It’s certainly impressive stuff from a tablet.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800

Although all Snapdragon 800 handsets are technically capable of 4K playback, it depends on what hardware the manufacturer pairs the chip with. MHL, the current standard for transmitting video from the micro-USB charging port to an HDMI-equipped display, doesn’t support 4K resolutions, so you would either need a full-size HDMI port built into the device or an HDMI-equipped docking station in order to play Ultra HD content at its native resolution.

With some of the fastest benchmark scores seen in a mobile device, support for home cinema standards like 4K video and 7.1 surround sound, it looks like high-end smartphones and tablets have a new performance target to aspire to. With Nvidia’s Tegra 4 chips also arriving in the coming months, it’s going to be interesting to see which comes out on top overall, but Qualcomm’s support for Ultra HD should please home cinema fans as well as anyone looking for a powerful handheld.

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News | Tablets