Today’s smartphone and mobile processors are very powerful, so powerful that it is almost as powerful as a desktop computer. Processors are now coming up with more cores. Initially, it was Single core, then came Dual core, we now have Quad core, Hexa-core, and even Octa-core. Most processors are 64 bit now as against 32 bit when it started initially. The processing speed has reached up to 3.0 -3.5 GHz. The ability to include GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) inside mobile processors have enabled devices to churn out the best graphics picture, 3D capability, Virtual Reality capability, and 4k recording. The improved processor technology also made today's modern mobile devices more power efficient.
This article lists some of the most popular mobile processors used in smartphone and tablets. This article was updated on Dec 10th, 2016. There is a quiz at the end of this article. Check your knowledge once you finish reading.
Qualcomm Technologies is a US based company. Qualcomm first became a known brand when they introduced CDMA technology in the market. Qualcomm is actively involved in technology related to semiconductor designing for mobile devices, tracking devices, satellite phones, Virtual Reality, wireless charging, communications etc. Qualcomm is now known for its Snapdragon brand which is responsible for releasing mobile processors and LTE modems.
Snapdragon's first claim to fame in processor market was when it released the first 1 GHz processor when the average speed of most smartphones was only 512 MHz.
Pros and Cons of Qualcomm Snapdragon processors
Qualcomm Snapdragon processors are popular with all mobile and tablet manufacturers except Apple.
Qualcomm Snapdragon processors are known for its performance. The processor handles multitasking very well and can handle heavy and intensive processing which is especially good for gaming. The presence of inbuilt Adreno graphics matches the performance of the processor. Snapdragon processors also produce less heat compared to other processors. Generally, Snapdragon processors are costlier than other processors.
Starting from 2005, Snapdragon went through a lot of series – S1, S2, S3, S4, S200, S400, S600, S800. The processor is going through S800 series as of 2016 end. S800 series already released S800, S801, S805, S808, S810, S820, S821. Most Qualcomm processors in medium to high-end phone market is either an S820 or 821.
After 821, Qualcomm released 835 series which was released in the early quarter of 2017. 835 series offers significant changes over 821. The chip size is 10 nanometer compared to 14 nanometers in S821. The new processor is 27% faster in performance, consume 40% less power and reduced size by 30%. The new chip is also equipped with Quick Charge 4.0 which can give enough power to your battery to last a day with just 5-10 minute charging.
Some of Snapdragon 821 devices are Google Pixel, Google Pixel XL, Asus Zenfone, OnePlus 3T, Xiaomi Mi 5s, Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus, LeEco Le Pro3.
Some of Snapdragon 835 devices are Samsung Galaxy S8, OnePlus 4/5, Sony Xperia XZ, Pixel 2, HTC 11.
The next in line for release from Snapdragon is Snapdragon 845 which is scheduled to be released by the third quarter of 2017.
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Apple Mobile processors
Apple does not manufacture any microprocessors. Instead, they make contracts with processor manufacturing companies mainly Samsung and TSMC for making custom-built processors that suit their design and performance expectations. For e.g., the A9 14nm processor was built by Samsung, while the A9 16nm version was built by TSMC.
Apple A series is designed for processors to be used on iPhone, iPad, iPad Touch, and Apple TV. Some of the processors in the series are A4, A5, A5X, A6, A6X, A7, A8, A8X, A9, A9X, and A10.
Apple A10 Fusion is the latest processor which is used in iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. A10 is a Quad Core built on 16 nm FinFET process capable of running at 2.4GHz speeds and a Hexa Core PowerVR GPU. Compared to its predecessor A9, A10 is twice faster and improve graphics processing by 50%. The processor is manufactured by TSMC.
Apple S series is designed for processors to be used on Apple Watch. Some of the processes in the series are Apple S1, Apple S1P, and Apple S2. The current version Apple S2 is a dual-core processor with built-in GPS used in Apple Watch Series 2. The processor is manufactured by Samsung under contract from Apple.
Apple W series is used in headphones for wireless audio connectivity. The series is currently in Apple W1 which is used in wireless headphones and AirPods.
Apple T series is designed to use in TouchID sensors in MacBook Pro. The only version released till now is Apple T1.
Intel Atom and Core M processors
Intel is an American multinational company synonymous with PC and microprocessors. Atom is the brand name given for the low power consumption and low-cost 32-bit and 64-bit chips manufactured for use in smartphones and tablet devices.
Intel processors are based on the X86 architecture which is powerful than the ARM but consume more power compared to ARM architecture. Latest versions of Intel processors did improve the power consumption aspect bringing it down to less than 5 watts which is ideal for all mobile devices. Though Atom processors, in the beginning, supported only Windows, it now supports all major mobile operating systems.
Intel Atom processors are currently in Atom X5 and X7 series. These chips are 64 bit Quad core processors in 14-nanometer size with speeds up to 1.6 GHz that can be scaled up to 2.4 GHz.
Intel also released Intel Core M microprocessors which are ultra-low-voltage designed for ultra-thin notebooks, mobile devices and 2 in 1 convertible. The processor consumes less 4.5 watts or less power making it ideal for long battery life. These are dual-core processors with speeds around 1.5Ghz which can be scaled to 3.2 GHz speeds. Intel Core M processors offer 40% boost in CPU and graphics performance than previous versions.
Intel Atom processors are supported by all manufacturers. The latest Atom processor is mainly used in tablet manufacturers from Microsoft Surface, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, HP. As of 2016, Asus ZenFone series is the only smartphone using Atom processor. Core M processors are used in 12-inch Apple MacBook and HP Chromebook.
Nvidia Corporation is an American based company technology company which specialize in making processing units for graphics, gaming units, and mobile devices. Nvidia develops chips for smartphones, tablets and mobile devices under the brand Tegra.
Tegra processors are built on 64 bit ARM architecture. Tegra till now has gone through Tegra 1, Tegra 3, Tegra 4, Tegra 4i, Tegra K1, Tegra X1. As of the end of 2016, Tegra X1 is currently the most advanced Tegra chip in the market. The process is Quad Core with 256 GPU cores capable of 4K video capabilities. The chips are built on 20 nm technology. The processor is currently used in Nvidia SHIELD Android TV.
Tegra processors used in smartphone and tablet markets are mainly Tegra 4, Tegra 4i and Tegra K1.
• Tegra 4 is used by Asus Transformer PAD, HP Slatebook, Toshiba Excite, Xiaomi Mi3, XOLO Play Tegra Note.
• Tegra 4i is used by Blackphone.
• Tegra K1 is used by Nvidia Shield Tablet, Google Nexus 9, Acer Chromebook 13 and 14, Navi Big Tab.
Nvidia has announced Tegra P1 and Nvidia Xavier for release by 2017. First one is going to be Hexa-core and the latter Octa-core. Both will be built on 16 nm technology.
Pros and Cons of Nvidia Tegra processors
Nvidia Tegra is considered the best when it comes to mobile gaming. The Graphics processing is among the best among all mobile processors. For mobile gaming, Tegra is the best. Tegra has a poor record with heat generation and battery performance. Hopefully, that should improve with the upcoming models. Tegra processors are costlier than other processors.
MediaTek is a Taiwanese semiconductor company providing chips for mobile devices, HDTVs and other electronic devices.
MediaTek processors are built on 64 bit ARM architecture. The latest MediaTek processor supports up to 3 GHz speed. They come in a variety of cores such as Dual Core (2 core), Quad Core (4 core), Hexa Core (6 core) and Deca Core (10 core).
The latest processor from MediaTek is Helio X20 and Helio X25 which are used in smartphones and tablets. MediaTek processors are most popular with the Chinese manufacturer. Xiaomi, Meizu, LeEco Le, Yu etc use them on Smartphones. Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Amazon Fire HD, QMobile are some of the manufacturers that use the processors in their tablets.
The company will be releasing Helio X30 and Helio X27 which will be available in the market by the first quarter of 2017. They use 10 nm and 20 nm respectively. Both are Deca-core with 2 dual-core and a single dual-core built inside the processor.
Pros and Cons of MediaTek processors
Latest processors from MediaTek come with a lot of cores. When combined with enough RAM, you can expect easy multitasking with good processing power. The PowerVR GPU of MediaTek is better than most of the processors. MediaTek produces less heat than Qualcomm and other processors. MediaTek processors are cheaper and so is the best option for budget devices with good performance.
The latest processor from MediaTek Helio P25 processor
HiSilicon is a Chinese company specializing in semiconductor technology. The company is owned by Huawei. The company creates chips based on ARM architecture. The company is the largest domestic integrated circuit designer in China.
Some of the processors released by HiSilicon are K3V1, K3V2, K3V2E, Kirin 620, Kirin 650, Kirin 910, Kirin 920, Kirin 930, Kirin 950 and soon to be released Kirin 960.
Some of the devices with Kirin 950 are Honor 8, Huawei mate 8, Huawei MediaPad M3.
Kirin 960 is the model to be released in the series. It is built on 64-bit ARM architecture on 16 nm FinFET technology. The processor is Quad core capable of going up to 2.4GHz. This is also the first processor with Mali-G71 MP8 GPU which is rumored to power soon to be released Galaxy S8. The GPU is rumored to be 180% faster than its predecessor. The processor made a great improvement in making sure the battery last longer. There is also a lot of improvement in high LTE download and upload speeds. The processor is rumored to be powerful than Apple A10 Fusion or Snapdragon 820 and 821.
Huawei P10 and Huawei Mate 9 with Kirin 960 will be released anytime by end of 2016 or the first quarter of 2017.
Exynos is a brand of Samsung Electronics which makes processors based on ARM architecture.
Some of the processors in the series are Exynos 7 Dual, Exynos 7420, Exynos 7 Octa 7580, Exynos 7 Octa 7870.
Exynos 7420 Octa which is a 14nm, octa-core processor is used in Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 edge.
After Samsung Galaxy S6, Samsung decided to use both Exynos and Qualcomm models for their smartphone. Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge used both Exynos 8 Octa 8890 and Snapdragon 820. The type of processor used was decided by the model number and the place from where it is bought. Exynos 8 Octa 8890 is 14nm octa-core processor.
Exynos 8 Octa 8895 is the latest from Exynos. The processor is equipped with Octa Core on 64-bit ARM architecture with Mali GPU. The processor is capable of running at 2.3 GHz speed with support for 3D gaming, 4K UHD resolution support. The chips are 10 nm technology. The processor is used in Galaxy S8 and S8+ processor. (Some models of S8 and S8+ use Snapdragon 835 processor).