The release of the original Qualcomm Snapdragon 400-series chips was a revelation for midrange smartphones. No more did they have to feel so obviously underpowered and lacking in features. Devices like the Moto G used the Snapdragon 400 to great effect, offering an almost unbelievably inexpensive device with solid performance. The 400 series has been stagnating lately, but Qualcomm is about to give the midrange its biggest boost since that first 400 chip came out. Later this year, the Snapdragon 450 will begin popping up in devices.
A system-on-a-chip (SoC) designed for the midrange isn’t as sexy as a super-powerful flagship Snapdragon 835, but it could be just as important. This chip will still use the same eight Cortex-A53 ARM cores as past 400-series chips. However, they’re been clocked up to a maximum of 1.8GHz, from 1.4GHz in the older design. That should give the new SoC a little more general muscle. This is, of course, still a 64-bit chip. However, it won’t support some newer technologies like Bluetooth 5.0. You have to go to the high-end chips for that.
The added muscle doesn’t come at the expense of battery life, though. Qualcomm has moved from an ancient 28nm process to 14nm. That allows for improved power efficiency and a smaller die. Qualcomm uses the rather vague metric of four additional hours of battery life compared with the Snapdragon 435.
The new Hexagon DSP, another important part of the Snapdragon SoC, has been improved dramatically as well. The Hexagon 546 will improve camera performance with support for 60fps video capture, dual cameras (up to 13MP each), and real-time bokeh effects. The graphics performance has been pumped up with the Adreno 506—it’s the same one used in the more powerful Snapdragon 625. That brings support for Vulkan and DirectX 12 to budget devices, and that means better games on the cheap.
As for connectivity, the Snapdragon 450 will support the X9 LTE modem and USB 3.0. The 450 can also handle Quick Charge 3.0 over the USB port, which is the current top-of-the-line until Quick Charge 4.0 comes out.
The 600-series chips are still reserved for devices in the $ 300-500 range, with some exceptions. However, the Snapdragon 450 narrows the performance gap considerably with a humble $ 200 phone. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 600-series refresh in the not-too-distant future. The Snapdragon 450 will start going out to manufacturers later this year. If we’re lucky, the first phones with this chip could show up at the very end of 2017 or in early 2018.