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Snapdragon 845 lacks Huawei-style AI silicon, here’s why

The Snapdragon 845 processor packs some solid specs on paper, set to power next year’s crop of flagship smartphones. But what’s the deal with its AI capabilities?

Qualcomm says it’s actually got third-generation AI hardware in the form of its Hexagon 685 digital signal processor (DSP). The first iteration of this silicon was delivered on last year’s Snapdragon 820, being used to offload tasks such as sensor-related activities.

But Qualcomm claims the DSP has been refined to deliver better AI performance. In fact, the company’s Gary Brotman says the Snapdragon 845 delivers a three-fold improvement in AI tasks over the Snapdragon 835.

Of course, Huawei is using a dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU) in its Kirin 970 processor. The NPU is dedicated to AI tasks and nothing else, as opposed to the more general purpose Qualcomm Hexagon tech.

“There’s certainly a lot of buzz about dedicated hardware acceleration… Down the road, there may be a need for that… Dedicated hardware requires a very deliberate choice and if you don’t place that bet correctly, it’s going to be wasted silicon,” a Qualcomm executive answered during a Q&A session.

“So in this phase of the life cycle… Having a programmable vector processor like (the) DSP… we believe that’s the right solution,” the executive added.

“If you look at some of those architectures out today [referring to Huawei and Apple – ed]… most that’ll claim to have dedicated acceleration are derivatives of a DSP, they’re derivatives of a GPU. So you can brand it any way you wish, we still solve the same problem.”

Hadlee Simons is a guest of Qualcomm in Hawaii.

Author Bio

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More