Qualcomm Details Kyro CPU in Snapdragon 820 Mobile Chip

The 14nm CPU will bring twice the power and energy efficiency of its predecessor and play a key role in the company's heterogeneous computing plan.


Qualcomm officials over the past several weeks have talked about the machine learning capabilities the company is bringing to the processor for improved security, as well as released information about the next generation of Qualcomm's Adreno GPU and Spectra camera image signal processor (ISP) and its Hexagon digital signal processor (DSP).

Now they are opening up about Kyro, Qualcomm's first custom-designed 64-bit CPU and a key part of its larger heterogeneous computing strategy for enabling mobile devices to better handle such workloads as imaging and virtual reality. It also is a way of bringing twice the performance and twice the power efficiency of its predecessor to high-end smartphones, according to Mark Shedd, director of marketing at Qualcomm.

Qualcomm is banking on the Snapdragon 802 to make 2016 better than this year, which started on a difficult note when it was learned that Samsung would not use the Snapdragon 810 chip in its new Galaxy S6 smartphone reportedly due to overheating issues. Qualcomm executives noted that despite the loss of the large customer, there were still more than 60 design wins from other device makers. However, the loss of Samsung is what caught the industry's attention.

Qualcomm had used an off-the-shelf ARM CPU design for the Snapdragon 810 to accelerate the company's move to 64-bit capabilities, but CEO Steve Mollenkopf in late January said that for the 820, the company was returning to a custom core design. The result is Kyro. The company engineered the CPU because "customization means being able to meet the needs of consumers without compromising on performance or battery life," Shedd posted on the company blog. "Higher performance is often at odds with longer battery life—but that's what we've engineered into the first generation of Kyro."

Kyro is a 14-nanometer CPU with speeds up to 2.2GHz and a FinFET transistor architecture for higher performance. It's also integrated with the Adreno 530 GPU and Hexagon 680 DSP to facilitate the heterogeneous computing. Essentially the chip can use all of the components—CPU, GPU, DSP and ISP—depending on the need of the application.

"The 820 is engineered with custom-built, highly optimized cores designed for heterogeneous computing—the ability to combine different functional cores of the system-on-chip (SoC), like the CPU, GPU and DSP cores, to achieve previously unattainable performance and power savings, rather than using the same core for different tasks," Shedd wrote.

In addition, because of its high performance and low power capabilities, the Snapdragon 820 can also be used in automotive and other mobile applications in the embedded space, he wrote.

Qualcomm officials also unveiled Qualcomm Symphony System Manager to help manage the heterogeneous computing on the chip, where more tasks are spread among the different components. The better management of that process, the more performance and power savings that can be achieved, Shedd wrote.

"Symphony is designed to manage the entire system-on-chip in different configurations so that the most efficient and effective combination of processors and specialized cores are chosen to get the job done as quickly as possible, with the least amount of power," he wrote. For example, he said, when he takes a photo with his smartphone, Symphony ensures "that the right components are powered up running at the needed frequency and only as long as needed."

The Snapdragon 820 is expected to be released in the fall, with smartphones powered by the chip rolling out in the first half of 2016.