Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 benchmarked: Performance soars, but not much

It appears Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 offers a substantial generational improvement over the Snapdragon 855, but much less so over the Snapdragon 855 Plus.

qualcomm snapdragon 865 landscape
Mark Hachman / IDG

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We learned quite a bit about Qualcomm’s next-generation Snapdragon 865 last week, except for one thing: how fast it is. Now we know—it’s potentially the fastest around. Well, around Android, anyway.

While our CPU and PC coverage leans heavily on benchmarking, we tend to focus more on the holistic experience of using phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10+, rather than just the performance. But benchmarks still matter, of course, so we jumped at the chance to test Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 865 last week, in a demonstration suite at the company’s Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii.

Keep in mind that these were demonstration devices provided by Qualcomm, and they represent a very specific set of metrics. While our results are certainly indicative of how the chip will perform in the real world, these aren’t real-world phones. The performance will vary by manufacturer.

Indeed, we were able to test the phones both in what you would call the default mode, as well as a secondary mode that leaned more heavily on the “performance” cores of the Snapdragon 865 architecture. These numbers would be a bit more representative of phones that emphasize speed instead of battery life, with several phones offering a toggle to switch modes. (Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to test the Snapdragon 765G, which is even more optimized for mobile gaming compared to the 765. Both chips are likely to be very popular among mid-range phones like the Pixel 4a.)

We compared the new Snapdragon 865 to phones using both today’s Snapdragon 855 as well as the Snapdragon 855 Plus, a slightly faster mid-cycle refresh that was introduced in the summer of this year. We also included Apple’s newest A13 Bionic processor, which powers the iPhone 11.

qualcomm snapdragon 865 testing pic Mark Hachman / IDG

The Snapdragon 865, tested

As you can see, the numbers were rather interesting, placing the Snapdragon 865 at or near the top of the heap. (We’ve outlined the “performance mode” graphics in black to differentiate them from the standard, default configuration.) Unfortunately, our limited testing time meant that we didn’t have time to use the reference designs for a prolonged period, and we have no camera testing for you at this point, either.

We use the Geekbench benchmark to evaluate phone CPUs from a computing standpoint, looking at single-core as well as the multi-core performance. Multi-threaded applications show the 865 at its best, while single-core performance seems to fall below that of the Snapdragon 855 Plus. Interestingly, the Snapdragon 865’s multi-core performance at the default level is about 30 percent higher than that of the 855 chip used in the Galaxy S10+. But compared to the 855 Plus, the difference is just 2 percent.

snapdragon 865 geekbench 5 fixed Mark Hachman / IDG

We’ve organized this chart hierarchically around the Geekbench multicore benchmark, but the single-core performance, as well as the raw compute numbers, are also represented. Due to an error, some of the benchmark numbers on the OnePlus 7T were entered incorrectly in an earlier version.

We also tested the Snapdragon 865 and other phones using the PCMark Work 2.0 benchmark, which demonstrates how it will perform on everyday tasks like web browsing and editing video and images. Unfortunately, Work 2.0 isn’t available for iOS.

snapdragon 865 pcmark work Mark Hachman / IDG

PCMark’s Work test also shows the Snapdragon 865 on top, though the numbers are clustered closely enough to probably not make much of a difference. UL, the developer, hasn’t released a version of the benchmark for iOS.

As more versions of PC games are ported to smartphone platforms like the Snapdragon 865, we’ll see more and more emphasis being placed on 3D performance. Here, we use 3DMark’s Sling Shot Extreme benchmark to test how well the 865’s Adreno GPU core performs.

snapdragon 865 sling shot extreme Mark Hachman / IDG

The 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme benchmark pushes the limits of the Snapdragon 865’s Adreno GPU, evaluating how well it would perform playing mobile games and other tasks.

We also performed a few more tests, though without context against other phones. Both of the GFxBench Aztec Ruins Vulkan and OpenGL Off-Screen tests yielded 20 frames per second at 1440p, while the similar Manhattan test (1440p, Fixed Time offscreen) yielded 50.38 fps. What’s notable is how far ahead Apple is when it comes to performance. The A13 Bionic already basically laps the 865. Tthe A14 is expected to move to a 5nm process, which should yield another speed boost. At this point, Qualcomm should call it a day and admit it’ll never catch up.

That said, we won't have any definitive tests of the Snapdragon 865’s performance until we get actual shipping hardware to test. We couldn’t measure battery life at all. As they stand, however, these tests are a good leading indicator that Snapdragon 865 phones should be worth waiting for. 

Correction: The Geekbench graph has been updated on Dec. 17 to correct information that was previously incorrectly entered.

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