Snapdragon 821 vs Snapdragon 820 – How different is the new one?

    Google has just launched its latest Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. Interestingly, the Snapdragon 821 chip inside the handsets runs at the same clock speed as the Snapdragon 820. We all used to know that the former is just an overclocked version of the latter and that is the only reason for its better performance. But the truth is that the Snapdragon 821 has some other interesting improvements over the Snapdragon 820 apart from running at higher frequencies. Read on to learn about the unknown enhancements of the new one and find how different it is from its predecessor.

    Qualcomm launched the Snapdragon 820 in November 2015 after the previous Snapdragon 810 turned out to be a massive failure. The newer processor came with custom-made Kyro cores and addressed almost every issue faced by its predecessor. So far, after almost a year, many manufacturers are still using the Snapdragon 820 to power up their top of the line devices. Just about the month ago, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 821, the successor if the Snapdragon 820.

    The Snapdragon 820 or MSM8996 has four custom made Kyro cores divided into two different clusters. The first pair is made for high performance and runs at a maximum clock speed of 2.15 GHz each while the other duo is dedicated to power efficiency and are restricted to the highest frequency of 1.6 GHz. The same arrangement of Kryo cores is present in the Snapdragon 821 or MSM8996 Pro with the performance oriented pair running up to a higher 2.4 GHz each and the each of the two battery saving cores clocking 2.0 GHz. This results in 10 percent increased performance in the newer chip.


    Both the Snapdragon 820 and 821 has the same Adreno 530 GPU. In the former, the graphics processor runs at 624 MHz in comparison to 653 MHz of the latter. This results in 5 percent increase in graphics rendering of the MSM8996 Pro. Qualcomm additionally claims that the Snapdragon 821 is 5 percent more battery efficient than its predecessor.

    The Snapdragon 820 and 821 are built upon the same 14 nm FinFET process and sport identical display resolutions support, connectivity, video decoding and rendering, memory technology, and storage. Apparently, it seems that the Snapdragon 820 and 821 are identical in every aspect other than the processor and GPU clock speeds, but there is much more to it.

    One of the main reason why Google used the Snapdragon 821 in the Pixel phones is the Snapdragon VR SDK (Software Development Kit). This is entirely unavailable with the Snapdragon 820. The new SDK comes with advanced VR toolset to give the developers broad access to the internal architecture of the Snapdragon 821 chipset. This is extremely useful and fully compatible with Google Daydream platform. The VR SDK helps in the rendering of cutting-edge visual and audio which helps in state of the art Virtual Reality experience.

    Read: Snapdragon 835 vs. 821

    Another important thing which is unknown for most people is about the camera improvements brought by the MSM8996 Pro. The SoC can simultaneously use two phase detectors for significant improvement in focussing quality and time. On the contrary, the Snapdragon 820 or MSM8996 only supports single PDAF (Phase Detecting Auto Focus) systems. The newer chipset extends the range of laser autofocus technology. This will substantially boost the laser-assisted autofocus systems of upcoming smartphones.

    Main reasons why the Snapdragon 821 is better than Snapdragon 820:

    • 10 percent lesser boot times
    • App loading time reduced by 10 percent
    • Updated performance optimizations for smoother User Interface and enhanced snappiness
    • 5 percent improvement in graphics performance
    • At least 5 percent more power efficient
    • Comes with Snapdragon VR SDK
    • Features Dual PDAF (Phase Detection Auto Focus) and extends the range of Laser Auto Focus
    • Supports up to 28 MP camera in comparison to 25 MP of the Snapdragon 820

    As you can see, the Snapdragon 821 brings in many more improvements rather than sheer overclocking. Yes, it is true that there is no significant performance gain and the other additions do not look catchy. But seemingly minor add-ons can have a major effect on practical usage.

    Shuddhahnik Maity
    Shuddhahnik Maity
    Shuddhahnik is a connoisseur of technology. Writing for tech related stuff is his passion. He is always aware of the latest happenings in the tech industry. In his free time, he loves to fiddle with different Operating Systems and software, assemble desktops, root and flash custom ROMs on Android devices.

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