Smartphone Processor Comparison

When it comes to smartphone comparison, speed is still key. Just like in computers, processors power the speed and capabilities of any smartphone.

Smartphone processors have definitely come a long way, just like their desktop and laptop counterparts. From humble 200MHz+ processors that we were happy with just over five years ago, the speed of smartphone processors has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, culminating with dual-core 1GHz+ processors last year.

This year seems to predict a new onslaught of quad-core processors that could even seriously rival the power of some full-sized PCs and laptops. With the myriad of smartphone processors coming upon us as smartphones improve by the day, just how would you decide on the right type of smartphone processor for you?

Amazing Evolution

It is truly an amazing technological feat for smartphone processors to come so close to being the equivalent of their full-sized counterparts. Just a few years ago, we humbly accepted that such miniaturized processors were already a miracle, affording us at least a fraction of the power of a full-sized processor.

Now it’s 2012, and the differences between computer and smartphone processors are disappearing at a rapid rate. Let’s now take a closer look at how smartphone processors developed, and how they play a role in shaping today’s revolutionary smartphones, such as the iPhone 4S, HTC Sensation XE, and Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus.

The Year of Speed Boosts

2009 was the year of speed boosting for smartphone processors. The year saw the iPhone 3GS processor running on 600MHz, providing a speed boost over the two earlier iPhone generations running on the ARM11 processor at 412MHz.

The year also saw the emergence of 1GHz processors, achieved by the HTC HD2 with its 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, which was also featured in the Google Nexus One.

Let’s zoom into some of the popular names of smartphone processors, such as ARM Cortex, NVIDIA’s Tegra, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon. But first, let’s discuss what smartphone processors are all about.

What Smartphone Processors Are Made Of

Smartphone processors are essentially miniaturized versions of the processor layout found in full-sized desktops, where there’s typically a motherboard (e.g., Intel X58) that supports a processor (e.g., Intel Core i7), which is further complemented by a graphics processing unit or GPU (e.g., NVIDIA GeForce GT525).

All of these components also exist in smartphones, but in a much more compact and integrated form. After all, these chips were designed to include all of these functions in a tiny smartphone while consuming much less power than their full-sized variants. Smartphones would overheat in no time if they were using any of these desktop-sized components.

ARM Cortex

ARM is currently one of the most prominent architectures for smartphone processors, consuming an all-time low power average of about 1mW, compared with about 100mW from Intel Atom chips in netbooks.

One of the recent versions of ARM designs is the ARM Cortex A8, which is found in high-end smartphones such as the 1GHz Apple A4 processor of the iPhone 4. There’s also the newer ARM Cortex A9, which powers the dual-core 1GHz Apple A5 processor of the iPhone 4S.

This latest architecture has also been implemented by NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 chipsets and the upcoming Tegra 3 as well.

NVIDIA Tegra

The NVIDIA Tegra chipset is well-renowned for its design of somewhat simulating multi-core processing, since its chipset can be broken down into several smaller processors that run different tasks.

The original Tegra used the older ARM11 processors that ran at 600MHz, with the newer Tegra 2 now succeeding it at speeds 4 times faster than the original. The Tegra 2 chipset is now the backbone behind several dual-core 1GHz processors, as found in the Motorola Atrix 4G and the Motorola Droid Bionic.

The Tegra 3 chipset, newly launched in November 2011, is predicted to be the backbone of the quad-core processors that will likely be emerging in the smartphone market this year. It supports multi-core speeds of up to 1.3GHz.

Do remember that just like on computers, the true processor speed depends not only on the GHz clock speed, but also on the number of cores.

Qualcomm Snapdragon

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon is a mobile system on chips that we see in many Samsung and HTC smartphones, such as the 1.2GHz processor found in Samsung’s Galaxy S II and Galaxy Nexus, as well as the speedy 1.5GHz processor of the HTC Sensation XE.

Also powering the processors found in Nokia’s Lumia 800 and HTC’s Evo 3D, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon is one of the mainstream platforms that powers smartphones, giving them the high-end capabilities of multitasking and HD video—features that we thought were only possible on PCs and laptops a few years back.

Conclusion

Smartphone processors are definitely getting better by the day. When making a smartphone comparison based on processing power, remember that the clock speed should not be your only guide. Processors vary widely in their architecture, as well as their number of cores.

A good general guideline today is to go for a smartphone with at least a 1GHz clock speed to handle today’s apps with multitasking. However, the differences between the various architectures and chipsets are minor and won’t significantly affect your smartphone experience.

Once you’ve selected a smartphone with a solid processor, be sure to test it out alongside the many other features of the smartphone itself to ensure that it will meet your needs.

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