With smartphones getting as powerful (or getting close to that goal) as netbooks and laptops, its no surprise that CPUs found in them have not only grown complex but also confusing to choose from. Unlike the PC where clearly an i7 is better than an i5, which in turn is better than an i3 (and yes there’s AMD too), things are not so neat on the ARM side of the table. Since ARM doesn’t make any CPU of its own, but just designs and licenses the CPU architecture for the manufacturers like Qualcomm, Nvidia and Samsung to make their own CPUs, there are a slew of products in the market. We try and clear some clouds of doubt without going into much detail and have a look at what each manufacturer has to offer and how it fares against others. To compare the GPUs on these SoC, read this post.
One of the most renowned manufacturer, their SoC power flagship phones like Lumia 920 and Galaxy S3. Qualcomm has a wide variety of chipsets which are divided into four classes or families.
Designed for entry level smartphones these are quite weak in performance and you can pretty much forget playing intensive 3D games on phones with these chipsets. This series offers single core CPU with clock speeds ranging from 600 MHz to 1 GHz. The new SoC found in more recent phones from 2011 are based on Cortex A5 architecture and have Adreno 200 on board which is not the best in class, but gets the job done. These SoCs offer value for money.
A few phones that have these SoCs onboard include Nokia Lumia 610, Xperia Tipo, Xperia Miro, Optimus L3 and L5 and HTC Desire VC.
These SoCs are bases on ARM v7 instruction set and house in Adreno 205. The clock speed varies from 800 MHz to 1.4 GHz. These SoCs offer better performance than S1 and are found in Windows 7.5 handsets and other Android phones that lie just above entry level smartphones. These are again single core only, but support 720p playback and recording.
Phones with SoCs belonging to this class include HTC One V, Lumia 900, Xperia Neo L, Lumia 800, Xperia Arc, Blackberry Bold 9900 and many more models priced similarly to the ones mentioned here.
Snapdragon S3 offer dual core CPUs and Adreno 220 which is a big leap from S2. These SoC not only power smartphones, but some tablets too. Performance is considerably better due to the dual core Scorpian processors and better GPU. Clock speed ranges from 1.2-1.7 GHz. Also L2 cache available is 1 MB, which is double of what is found on S2 SoC.
HP Touchpad, Xperia S, Galaxy S2, Galaxy Note and LG Nitro HD are few devices featuring this chipset.
Well, this was when Qualcomm snagged their coup, and were able to beat other manufactures to dust. The in house Krait architecture was the best in class when it was launched and these chipsets offered best performance along with support for LTE. However, since 2012 Qualcomm has really messed up the naming system and introduced further classes in the S4 family that creates a lot of confusion.
Though supporting dual core processor, these are pretty weak chipsets ( maybe not as weak as S2 but certainly behind S3) and come with Adreno 203. The maximum clock speed is 1.2 GHz. These are based on Cortex A5 architecture and can’t even play 720p videos. That’s a real shame and calling it an S4 is just a gimmick.
HTC Desire X and Desire VS are two phones that come with this SoC and should be avoided for the price that they demand.
A step above S4 Play and S3 this SoC is the improved version of the original that is found in flagships like Galaxy S3. The SoC packs Krait CPU which delivers solid performance. Clock speeds go up to 1.7 GHz for different versions and the SoC supports 1080p playback. These chipsets carry either the Adreno 305 or Adreno 225. The die size is 28nm which is smaller than S4 Play and S3.
HTC 8S, 8X, Lumia 920, Samsung Galaxy S3, Note 2, HTC One X, Xperia T are a few phones with S4 Plus SoC.
These are again a notch above S4 Plus. There’s Adreno 320 on board which is an improvement over the Adreno 225. There’s a dual core and a quad core variant. Clock speeds go up to 1.7 GHz again.
While the Nokia Lumia 920T packs the dual core version, LG Optimus G, HTC Butterfly J, Asus Padfone 2 all pack the quad core variant.
S4 Prime is designed for the Smart TV platform offering clock speed upto 2.5 GHz and Adreno 320. You probably wont be seeing these on a phone anytime soon but if you do be sure to get it.
This year at CES, Qualcomm announced two new processors–the Snapdragon 600 and Snapdragon 800. Both these SoCs are more powerful than Qualcomm’s other offerings. Qualcomm will follow these by Snapdragon 200 and Snapdragon 400, which will power entry level and mid range devices.
Snapdragon 200 & 400
The yet to be released SoC from Qualcomm will see the company filling the lower end devices with its hardware. The Snapdragon 200 will feature four Cortex A5 cores paired with Adreno 203.
Snapdragon 400 on the other hand, will have several variants. Entry level variants will feature a quad core CPU with Cortex A7 cores while the others will feature four Krait cores. The GPU packed along on all of these will be the Adreno 305.
APQ8064T is the only version available in the series so far and powers smartphone giants like Galaxy S4, HTC One and Optimus G Pro. The four Krait 300 cores can be clocked up to 1.9 GHz. Additionally, it comes with Adreno 320 which offers better performance than the Adreno 320 on S4 Pro.
Snapdragon 800 will take the title of the fastest mobile CPU by the company (and probably the fastest in the world) when it debuts in the coming months. The CPU features four Krait 400 cores that will deliver next level performance. The four cores can be clocked up to 2.3 GHz. Additionally the SoC will feature Adreno 330 which is again expected to set new benchmark records.
Tegra is the SoC series developed by Nvidia for smartphones tablets and PDAs. Though there are early variants of Tegra dating back to 2008 we’ll only cover the ones found in modern day phones and tablets.
This is the second generation of Tegra SoCs powered by dual core Cortex A9 processors and ULP Geforce GPU. This series of chipsets has been almost replaced by Tegra 3 but can be still found in some 2011 phones.
Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy R, Galaxy Tab 10.1 Motorola Photon were a few devices packing Tegra 2.
This family of SoC offer a quad core CPU along with a fifth core for low power consumption. Compared to Tegra 2, the ARM Cortex A9 in Tegra 3 now supports ARM’s SIMD extension NEON. Also the GPU has double the number of pixel shader units compared to previous gen.
The international version of One X+, One X, Asus Transformer Pad and many other tablets pack Tegra 3 inside. The latest Tegra 3 T33 found in One X+ uses DDR3 memory clocked at 800 MHz, instead of DDR2 on the earlier versions of the series.
Tegra 4 and Tegra 4i
The new SoC from Nvidia for 2013 promise to offer much more muscle power over the Tegra 3. Similar to Tegra 3, Tegra 4 houses four Cortex- A15 cores along with a battery saver fifth core. The 72 core GPU is 6 times more powerful than Tegra 3 while the CPU performance is pegged at 2.6 times that of Tegra 3.
Tegra 4i on the other hand, brings in onboard LTE. It also loses the Cortex A15 cores for four Cortex A9 cores that can be clocked up to 2.3 GHz. The Tegra 4i packs 60 graphics cores against the 12 found in Tegra 3.
Exynos family of chipsets is an in-house product of Samsung and mostly found in smartphones and tablets from their stables. The sub-classification here isn’t much branched, and is pretty simple to understand.
Found in Galaxy S, Nexus S the SoC is powered by a single core Corte A8 processor. The chipset packs SGX540 GPU on board.
Exynos 4 Dual 4210
The chipset here packs a dual core CPU with frequency ranging from 1.2-1.4 GHz. There’s also Mali 400 to handle the visuals.
The SoC is found on Galaxy S2, Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab 7.0
Exynos 4 Dual 4212
The die is 32 nm instead of 45 nm on 4210. Other specs are similar to 4210.
Exynos 4 Quad
The chipset powers new flagship devices like the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 10.1. There’s a quad core processor on board along with DDR3 memory. The GPU is again called Mali 400MP but is not the same as the one found in Exynos 4 Dual.
Exynos 5 Dual
The SoC packs a 1.7 GHz dual core processor along with Mali T604. The chipset is available on Nexus 10 and Chromebook.
Exynos 5 Octa
Found on Samsung Galaxy S4, the Exynos 5 Octa is the fastest processor out in the market, ahead of Snapdragon 600 (if not by a long margin). The SoC features eight cores, all of which do not function at the same time. The four Cortex A15 cores clocked at 1.6-1.8 GHz take care of heavy muscle work, while when it comes to saving battery, the four Cortex A7 cores clocked at 1.2 GHz jump into action. A tri core Power VR SGX544MP3 chip takes care of the graphical performance.
How they fare against against each other
- Snapdrago 800/ Nvidia Tegra 4 (speculative for now)
- Exynos 5 Octa
- Snapdragon 600
- Snapdragon S4 Pro
- Tegra 3 T33 ( One X+)
- Exynos 4 quad
- Tegra 3
- Snapdragon S4 Plus
- Snapdragon S3
- Tegra 2
- Exynos 4210
- Snapdragon S4 Play
- Snapdragon S2
- Snapdragon S1