Mobile World Congress 2014 saw a wave of new processors appear on the scene. This kicked of with Intel, when it launched a major offensive into the smartphone market, unveiling its dual-core Merrifield and quad-core Moorefield Atom processors. Not wanting to be outdone by the PC heavyweight, Qualcomm answered back, unveiling its latest top-end Snapdragon 805 64-bit processor.
On paper the Snapdragon 805 is pretty impressive. Built up of four Krait 450 cores with a maximum clock speed of 2.7GHz, the chip also integrates an Adreno 420 GPU and 128-bit memory interface. But a chip by itself is never the whole story, and it's all about how it works with the other parts and software in the device.
We got to test the Snapdragon running inside several demo Android tablets at Qualcomm's MWC stand, and we were very impressed by how well they ran. Trying out the first tablet with a variety of pre-installed applications, the device was lighting fast. We were particularly impressed with how well it dealt with heavier, more demanding tasks such as 1080p 3D gaming.
We're guessing this is due to the chip's upgraded Adreno 420 GPU, which is listed as offering 40 percent better performance than the older 320. It's also likely a consequence of the fact that the Adreno 420 GPU supports new hardware tessellation and geometry shaders for 4K rendering.
Hardware tessellation is a feature traditionally only seen in discrete GPUs for PCs and it has only recently been incorporated into DirectX and next-generation games consoles such as Sony's PS4 and Microsoft's Xbox One. For us the feature's inclusion on the Snapdragon 805 is sign that Qualcomm is working to further close the gap between PCs and tablets.
4K ultra HD resolution display
We noticed the biggest Snapdragon perk on a second tablet, which had a 10.1in 4K ultra HD 3840x2160 resolution display. This display quality is only possible on the tablet thanks to the advanced GPU and CPU combination in the Snapdragon 805, and we have to concede that the 4K display is a serious technical achievement.
Viewing a variety of images on the device, we found it one of the crispest and sharpest displays we've seen on a tablet. From, what we've seen of the test device so far, the display easily beat the iPad Air's performance. Holding the tablet as close to our face as we could, we still couldn't discern individual pixels on the screen.
As an added bonus the Snapdragon 805 also offers 4K video playback, featuring support for the hardware 4K HEVC (H.265) decode for mobile. Sadly, we didn't get a chance to test this during our hands on.
There's currently no word about when the first Snapdragon 805 tablets will be go on sale, but from what we've seen of the Qualcomm demo devices, we're pretty excited. The demo tablets we tried seemed lightning fast and, while we didn't get a chance to benchmark them, they did seem to offer substantially improved performance on Qualcomm's previous Snapdragon 800 processor.
That said, the real question isn't how the Snapdragon 805 compares with the 800, it is how it will match up to the performance of Intel's Moorefield. We're yet to get a chance to test this, but with Dell, Lenovo and Asus confirmed to be working on devices using the upgraded Atom chips, hopefully we won't have to wait long to do so.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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