New Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 chip is exclusively for Windows 10 devices

Qualcomm today is announcing the Snapdragon 850 Mobile Compute Platform skipping the current Snapdragon 845 built for smartphones. The new Snapdragon 850 brings a host of new features designed around the Windows 10 operating system and made for smaller computing devices – and not just PCs.

While the Snapdragon 835 found currently in the HP Envy x2, Lenovo Miix 630, and Asus NovaGo is seen as a first attempt at Windows 10 on ARM, the Snapdragon 850 is the first chip built specifically for Windows 10 devices making it a significant advancement.

Snapdragon 850 – What's new

The Snapdragon 850 brings an advancement over the current Snapdragon 835 smartphone processor with higher clock speeds and more finely tuned core balancing for devices running Windows 10.

Compared to the current Snapdragon 835 in Always Connected PCs the new Snapdragon 850 brings:

  • 30 percent increase in performance.
  • 20 percent increase in battery life and efficiency.
  • 20 percent increase in Gigabit LTE speeds.

That boost in performance and longevity is due to the new Hexagon 685 digital signal processor (DSP), Kyro 385 CPU, and new X20 LTE modem.

The refreshed X20 modem can deliver theoretical speeds of up to 1.2Gbps versus the X16 modem in the current Snapdragon 835's 1.0Gbps max.

While many of the components in the new Snapdragon 850 are found in the Snapdragon 845, the 850's tends to be clocked higher and tuned for Windows 10 due to better thermal space, larger batteries, different drivers, and unique hardware. As such, we will never see a Snapdragon 850 in any smartphone.

For instance, the Kyro 385 CPU is the same as found in the current Snapdragon 845, but instead of a 2.8GHz clock speed, it now goes up to 2.95GHz (the Snapdragon 835 was even lower at 2.6GHz).

Additionally, the Snapdragon 850 brings support for Microsoft's Machine Learning SDK and artificial intelligence (A.I.) initiatives. As developers being to leverage A.I. in their apps, the Snapdragon will support them through direct hardware acceleration.

Snapdragon 850 - Audio and visual boost too

The new Snapdragon 850 chipset also leans more heavily on entertainment. The new chip has support for the following advanced audio features with Qualcomm Aqstic and Qualcomm aptX audio, which features:

  • Virtual surround sound.
  • Up to native Direct Stream Digital (DSD) format.
  • High-dynamic-range and ultra-low Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise (THD+N).
  • aptX HD support.

Qualcomm's Aqstic system works through a standard 3.5mm jack or more current USB Type-C ports.

Another shift is in media creation. The Snapdragon 835 supported 4K playback, but now the Snapdragon 850 also allows for 4K UHD video capture.

Finally, Qualcomm did confirm that the Snapdragon 850 will support secondary display output as well, which opens the door for multi-monitor scenarios.

Welcome to the Mobile Compute Platform

Qualcomm is also making a subtle shift away from the previous 'Mobile PC Platform' with the Snapdragon 835 to the newer and more ambiguous 'Mobile Compute Platform' with the Snapdragon 850.

While Qualcomm did not announce on behalf of any of its partners' new hardware the reasoning for the name shift is due to hardware manufacturers moving beyond traditional laptops and 2-in-1s, which we have seen thus far.

Mobile Compute Platform is a flexible phrase that allows for more "innovative form factors" as Qualcomm calls it. While so far, we have seen 12-inch 2-in-1s there is no reason why Dell, HP, or Lenovo could not make smaller 8-inch devices, small devices with dual displays, or any other radical shift from what we know as a PC today.

Snapdragon 850 hardware specifications

There is a lot of nitty-gritty to the Snapdragon 850. Luckily, we have all of those specificaitons here too.

Cellular Modem – Snapdragon X20

  • Peak Download Speed: 1.2 Gbps
  • Peak Upload Speed: 150 Mbps

CPU – Kryo 385

  • CPU Clock Speed: Up to 2.96 GHz
  • CPU Cores: 8 x Kryo 385 CPU

Adreno Subsystem – Adreno 630

  • Open GL ES 3.2, Open CL 2.0, Vulkan, DirectX 12
  • Ultra HD Premium video playback and encoding @ 4K (3840x2160) 30fps
  • Slow motion HEVC video encoding of FHD (1080p) up to 120fps
  • H.264 (AVC), H.265 (HEVC), VP9, DisplayPort over USB Type-C support

Camera – Spectra 280

  • New architecture for 14-bit image signal processing, with support for up to:
  • Single HFR 16 MPix camera at 60fps ZSL
  • Dual 16 MPix cameras at 30fps ZSL
  • Single 32 MPix camera at 30fps ZSL
  • Multi-frame Noise Reduction (MFNR) with accelerated image stabilization
  • Hybrid Autofocus with support for dual phase detection (2PD) sensors
  • Ultra HD Premium video capture @ 4K (3840x2160) 30fps

Wi-Fi – 802.11ad Multi-gigabit

  • Wi-Fi integrated 802.11ac 2x2 with MU-MIMO
  • 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz

Bluetooth – Bluetooth 5

Charging – Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+

Availability

Look for new devices running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 platform with Windows 10 in the second half of 2018.

Analysis - Why this is a big deal

Ever since Microsoft and Qualcomm announced Windows 10 on ARM back in late 2016 questions remained about how it would work, and long-term commitment.

Make no mistake the Snapdragon 850 is a modified Snapdragon 845 – it uses many of the same hardware bits. Internally, we heard the 850 was referred to as "Snapdragon 845s".

But this is the first ARM chip designed and tuned specially for running Windows 10, versus being shoehorned in like the Snapdragon 835. The CPU is clocked higher, the cores are optimized for Windows 10's workload and OS structure, and the drivers now support all the features of the chipset (and vice versa).

One example is hardware-accelerated A.I. support, which makes Microsoft's Machine Learning SDK much more interesting for developers. Advanced A.I.-assisted photo-editing, grammar checking, and smart assistants will be able to leverage this chipset directly opening many more opportunities.

Whereas Qualcomm was touting "beyond all-day battery life," which proved very accurate in my HP Envy x2 review, the Snapdragon 850 now boasts "multi-day battery life."

That new X20 modem not only increases theoretical LTE speeds to 1.2Gbps but it also extends its reach more markets due to lower Licensed-Assisted Access (LAA) requirements with 90 percent of operators supporting the 10MHz range.

We should also begin to see some real hardware innovation too. While Surface-clones are fun we should begin to see new form factors and experimental designs from manufacturers starting this year with the Snapdragon 850.

While there was no announcement around Microsoft's rumored "Andromeda" dual-screened tablet that PC being powered by the Snapdragon 850 seems very likely. Andromeda is not expected to be announced until the fall, which lines up nicely with the expected availability of the Snapdragon 850.

Finally, as Qualcomm remarks themselves, this is only the beginning of a "multi-year effort." Rumors of a "Snapdragon 1000" powered by the new Cortex-A76 processor in 2019 promises performance rivaling an Intel Core i5 CPU. That paves the path for "real" PC laptops with the expected performance of Intel, but all the benefits of ARM.

Even Dell is rumored to have a dual-screen mobile device.

Buckle up. The rest of 2018 and 2019 is going to get even more exciting for "compute devices" with Windows 10. It's no longer just about traditional PCs.

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

101 Comments
  • What is the performance increase of the 850 over the 845?
  • It's in the text. SD850 is clocked at 2.95GHz vs 2.8GHz of the SD845.
  • Thanks, I wonder what the performance difference will be between this and the Asus ROG phone, as they are clocked similarly and, apart from the fact that the 850 won't be used for phones due to a few Windows 10 specific features, you mention that the internals of the chips are quite similar.
  • Is it more efficient in emulating x86 istructions?
  • There should be some improvement but the priority for Microsoft & Qualcomm should be in getting as much as possible existing Win32 desktop software compiled into Arm versions. Especially bench-marking software as that is what these machines will get tested on in reviews.
  • One more question: apps in the store such as Spotify, iTunes, Telegram, Whatsapp... apps which were converted with project centennial run natively arm code on snapdragon pcs or they get emulated just the same as downloading them form the web?
  • Not 100% sure for each and every one, but I'd say most if not all are still classic desktop apps. Other than VLC I didn't hear for any other app that was recompiled for ARM64 yet. So generally you should assume that they aren't native, unless stated otherwise. It's also still a new-ish thing, so it's not as popular now, but I do expect it to go way faster in a bit.
  • I would expect any app that was once available for Windows Mobile/Phone (Spotify, Telegram, Whatsapp, but not iTunes) would have an ARM64 version available about the time the Snapdragon PCs become widely available.
  • Hello Osborne effect lol. Just as the first generation of always-connected PCs is being released, this gets announced. Looking forward to it. Even though I don't really NEED one, I am curious to try it out with my current productivity apps and maybe have it as a backup PC.
  • And so begins the road to Andromeda. It's gonna have one of these processors.
  • Andromeda😎😎
  • Andromeda😎😎😎😎
    .......
    These capture features give me hope that Andromeda might actually have a really good camera, which is something people who buy this device will exspect. Let's be real. Andromeda needs a terrific camera
  • What makes you think that? Why would a pen input device need to have an amazing camera? I mean, it obviously can't hurt, but how does that enhance 'journaling' or 'inking'?
  • A great camera is integral to any serious device in the modern business/consumer/educational/entertainment world (IMO). It is an essential (even mandatory) tool that should be included in any device's toolbox (alongside pen, mobility and battery life).
  • I might not be like most people, but cameras on my tablets and PCs don't get any use while the one on my phone is mostly a magnifying glass to see small things. When it comes to taking pictures I still use a classic camera that is built to be help with one hand. So for me quality of camera on portable devices is the least of my concern.
  • You're right. You might not be like most people. So, how is your comment relevant, and what's your point?
    ........
    That's like me going to a dedicated camera post and telling people how I prefer to use a Smartphone camera.. 🤔🤔
  • Actually a camera is integral, it doesn't have to be great. And honestly I highly doubt "Andromeda" will have anything above and beyond what we see now on devices.
  • "How does having a great camera enhance journaling, or inking"....
    That's gotta be the most stupid question any pathetic troll has asked in 2018.
    ...............
    Here's a better question for unnecessary pessimist like you. "How would a very nice camera on Andromeda take away from Journaling, or inking".... 🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄 Please, man. Get the fuq outta here.
  • Well, it would depend on whether that really nice camera forced compromises with the form factor or forced the device to too high of a price point. Engineering is all about trade offs, and the camera is definitely the least important part of a journaling device. Not unimportant mind, just not worth sacrificing other things for.
  • Of course.. But, Daniel, and others have mentioned how this device may use the camera for productivity reasons. Insurance adjusters, real-estate agents, and roofers, are just a fraction of those who depend on cameras to relay important information, and the better those pictures are the better the graphical information gets relayed. Not to mention possible 3D scanning capabilities.
    I think we've all gotten past the fact that this device if solely intended for journalists... I guarantee you if MS markets this device that way it will not do as well as if they did otherwise. That would be like marketing the Surface Pro 3 as the most portable word processor... Not a good idea. This device needs to appeal to all professionals period. End of story.
    .........
    Don't think half baked, and 50%, like typical MS.... Think more like the Xbox, OneNote, and Surface teams. Realistically⛽🎈⛽🎈⛽🎈⛽🎈💜💜💜💜
  • Asking why this device would need a top of line camera is trolling....? Ok...
    I think if they release something like a folding tablet the difficulties in engineering will force some compromises. I wondered what your thoughts were on why an excellent camera was so necessary. I suppose I shouldn't have expected an articulate response. I don't use the cameras on any of my tablets, but then, they don't fold so maybe there's a new utility that might bring. Anyway, continue screaming about nothing or whatever it is you do.
  • Tablet is 1 on 1, who care about camera. Andromeda is 3 in 1, good camera is critical
  • Even the biggest idiot can see this.
  • You have a reputation of being a troll. You ask a stupid question you're gonna be treated like a troll. You ask a sound question you're still gonna get treated like a troll... Forever. Who's fault is that? Is that my fault? No, it's your damn fault. Here's a tip. If you don't like it then don't ask me any questions. If that doesn't work for you then IDK, or care, to help you with your mental health issues. Move on, and get a life🤷🏽🤷🏽🤷🏽🤷🏽
  • Damn, if you spat the dummy any further I'd call it a Super Power.
  • I expect it will be used for more than inking, but even just for inking being able to take excellent pics of docs or locations to annotate would be a key feature such a device would be expected to cover.
  • Exactly.....
  • <