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Qualcomm delivering Adreno 650 GPU updates via the Play Store is a huge deal for Android gaming

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The Snapdragon 865 chipset is now official, and it comes with a slew of upgrades in key areas. The chipset features ARM’s latest Cortex A77 cores, delivering a 20% boost in performance from last year, and the Adreno 650 GPU has more cores that result in a massive 25% uptick.

But one feature in particular stands out: Qualcomm will start delivering GPU updates directly from the Play Store, similar to what NVIDIA and AMD do on PCs. These updates were previously delivered via annual platform version updates or bundled with monthly security updates in the case of hotfixes, and in both cases were reliant on your phone manufacturer or carrier.

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So it’s a big deal that Qualcomm is able to roll out these updates directly from the Play Store, but the fact that it’s able to do so in the first place is all because of Project Mainline. Mainline is a massive change in the way Android updates work, with Google making the update process more modular so your phone can get essential updates without waiting for a rollout from your carrier or device manufacturer.

Qualcomm could roll out driver updates whenever a new game releases — and fix any issues as soon as they pop up.

By leveraging Mainline, Qualcomm will be able to deliver driver updates seamlessly from the Play Store — just like app updates. The install process itself is ingenious, and you’ll have to read our own Jerry Hildenbrand’s excellent take on it to get an idea of how Mainline works on your phone.

But why does your phone need regular driver updates? One reason is to enable support for new titles that debut on the Play Store. NVIDIA does this regularly with its Game Ready drivers that ensure any new AAA title will run without any issues, and Qualcomm will likely follow a similar strategy here.

Android games are also constantly updated with new features, so Qualcomm could roll out a update to better support the new additions. This change also gives Qualcomm more flexibility in addressing specific game-related issues, like frequent crashes or gameplay lag. Qualcomm also has the ability to roll out optimization-related fixes to ensure games run smoothly.

It is great to see Qualcomm take control over driver updates, but for now the feature is limited to the flagship-tier Adreno 650 series. The Adreno 620 on the Snapdragon 765 chipset — which was unveiled alongside the Snapdragon 865 — doesn’t make any mention of updatable drivers, and that’s a letdown when you consider it is available in a gaming-focused Snapdragon 765G version as well.

For now, this is a step in the right direction, and hopefully we’ll see more mid-tier Adreno chipsets added to the mix in the future.

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