Qualcomm has announced a return to its semi-annual chip refreshes with a new Snapdragon 855 ‘Plus’, offering minimal performance gains for cooled devices.
It’s often been proposed that ‘Moore’s Law is dead’ after a decade of minimal performance gains in the desktop processor industry drastically underperforming Moore’s observed 2x performance gains every 2 years; however, when one looks to the mobile industry one sees a much more interesting game of often drastic synthetic performance gains year-on-year, and example being 2019’s Snapdragon 855 being up to 40% faster than 2018’s Snapdragon 845.
As an accessory to the classic yearly ‘flagchip’ update cycle followed by not only Qualcomm but all other mobile chip-makers, though, companies sometimes release bi-annual refreshes of their current top-dogs; a tactic not employed since 2016’s refresh of the Snapdragon 820 to 821.
Well Qualcomm has today announced a return to that recycling with the refreshed Snapdragon 855 dubbed the ‘855 Plus’; featuring no changes save a 4% overclock on the CPU from 2.84Ghz to 2.96Ghz (on the fastest single core), and a 15% overclocked graphics chip from 585Mhz to 672Mhz, the 855 Plus is clearly only a small update using binned chips (where the best-performing 855’s are set aside for a more expensive brand), likely incepted as a marketing ploy.
Indeed, while improved performance to some small degree is inevitable, the graphics performance, in particular, is unlikely to be noticeable in all but the most well-cooled devices as mobile GPUs basically always overheat and throttle performance in devices as small as smartphones; and the 4% improvement to only the single fastest core is so minute as to be imperceptible.
The only place one is likely to find any real difference in performance between the Snapdragon 855 and 855 Plus is in synthetic benchmarks, purely for the sake of it.
Minor performance gains nonetheless, Qualcomm has already found the first buyer for the Snapdragon 855 Plus in Asus, and the ROG Phone 2 said to launch imminently; Asus also used an unbranded overclocked Snapdragon 845 in 2018’s ROG Phone 1, and it seems highly likely that Qualcomm got the whole idea of the overclocked 855 Plus from that.
I also would not be surprised if we saw Samsung launch their Note 10 with the 855 Plus chip, nor Google in their Pixel 4 series.
So yes, the 855 Plus has just launched offering slightly improved performance over its vanilla brethren but it’s nothing to really worry about nor envy, and in truth it is unlikely to provide any real user experience improvements given the thermal constraints of smartphones; so don’t worry about it.