The Best-Processor in Mobile Industry
There are lots of Android SoC manufacturers in the world, however in terms of market share Qualcomm and Samsung are the kings so which is the Best-Processor. The world’s largest chip maker is of course Intel, however it hasn’t had much success in the mobile space. The main reason is that the dominant system architecture for mobile is ARM. Companies like Qualcomm and Samsng make SoCs based on the ARM architecture, an architecture that is designed primarily for low energy consumption. In fact, every CPU core or GPU system made by ARM is designed to fit within a very tight “thermal budget.” The ARM architecture isn’t just limited to Android, it is also the system architecture at the heart of the iPhone, as well as other mobile handsets like Microsoft’s range of Windows Phones and handsets from Blackberry.
From a recently did a comparison of the leading SoCs from Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek and Huawei, buy Android Authority’s Gary Sim all ARM based chips, but in that lineup I didn’t include Intel. It seems that there is some interest to see how Intel compares with the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung, so here is my comparison of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, the Samsung Exynos 7420 and the Intel Atom Z3580.
|Snapdragon 810||Exynos 7420||Atom Z3580|
|CPU||4x Cortex-A57 + 4x Cortex-A53||4x Cortex-A57 +|
|4x Silvermont x86|
|CPU clock||A57 – 2.0GHz|
A53 – 1.5GHz
|A57 – 2.1GHz|
A53 – 1.5GHz
|Arch||ARMv8-A (32 / 64-bit)||ARMv8-A (32 / 64-bit)||Intel X86-64|
|GPU||Adreno 430 @ 630MHz||ARM Mali-T760 MP8 @ 772 Mhz||PowerVR G6430 @ 533Mhz|
|Memory||LPDDR4 1600MHz 64-bit||1552MHz LPDDR4||LPDDR3 1600 MHz|
The Best-Processor in Mobile Industry
The two ARM based SoCs in our lineup are octa-core processors using a technology from ARM called big.LITTLE. The idea behind big.LITTLE is that not all the cores are equal. You generally find a cluster of Cortex-A57 cores and a cluster of Cortex-A53 cores. The A57 is a high performance core, while the A53 has greater energy efficiency.
With big.LITTLE that point is less of an issue since the extra four cores are designed to add power efficiency, not higher performance.
When tasks are run on the LITTLE cores they use less power, they drain the battery less, however they may run a little slower. When tasks are run on the big cores, they finish sooner but they use more battery to do so. This is known as Heterogeneous Multi-Processing or HMP.
Intel doesn’t have a HMP solution, instead its philosophy is to use four equal cores with a mix of performance and power efficiency. As a result the Atom Z3580 has a quad core CPU.
Today’s core count is however going to change. The next generation of CPU from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 820, will go back to using four cores, with a core design cooked up by Qualcomm’s engineers rather than using the core designs from ARM. At the other end, MediaTek will be releasing a SoC with 10 CPU cores, the Helio X20.
Another vital part of a SoC is its Graphical Processor or GPU. There are three major designers of mobile GPUs: ARM, Qualcomm and Imagination. ARM’s range of GPUs are known as Mali and includes the Mali-T760, as found in the Exynos 7420. Qualcomm’s GPUs are branded under the Adreno name with the Snapdragon 810 using an Adreno 430. The third player in the GPU space is Imagination with its PowerVR range. Imagination has had the most success on mobile with Apple, as every iPhone since the 3GS has used a PowerVR GPU. However, Imagination has also had some success with Intel as the Atom Z3580 uses the PowerVR G6430.
It is difficult to make a comparison between these GPUs just from the specifications. They all support OpenGL ES 3.1, they all support RenderScript, and they all boast high gigaFLOP numbers. The real test comes when running actual 3D games.
There aren’t that many smartphones which use Intel processors, however one smartphone that made a splash this year was the Asus Zenfone 2. At its core is the Intel Atom Z3580. Built using a 22nm fabrication process, the Z3580 has four cores and includes Imagination’s PowerVR G6430 GPU. It is based on Intel’s Silvermont microarchitecture, which was announced by Intel in on May 6, 2013. Silvermont was the basis of four different SoC families of which Merrifield and Moorefield were aimed at smartphones.
The Snapdragon 810 is Qualcomm’s current flagship 64-bit processor. It has eight cores in total, four Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. As I mentioned above, this is a HMP SoC using ARM’s big.LITTLE technology. The more power efficient Cortex-A53 cores are used for easier tasks and the Cortex-A57 cores are activated when some heavy lifting is required. Bundled with the CPU is the Adreno 430 GPU, the Hexagon V56 DSP, and an integrated X10 LTE modem.
This is one of the most popular smartphone processors at the moment, mainly because it is the processor used by Samsung for its current range of high-end devices including the Samsung Galaxy S6, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge +, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Like the Snapdragon 810 it uses four Cortex-A53 cores and four Cortex-A57 cores. But rather than the Adreno 430, we find an ARM Mali-T760 MP8.
The Mali-T760 has 8 shader cores while boasting a 400% increase in energy efficiency over the ARM Mali-T604. One of the tricks in the Mali-T760’s architecture is the use of bandwidth reduction techniques, which minimizes the amount of data shifted around and hence reduces the amount of power used by the GPU. Such techniques include ARM Frame Buffer Compression (AFBC), which compresses the data as it is passed from one part of the SoC to another; and Smart Composition, which only renders the parts of the frame which have changed.
Thanks to the smaller 14nm FinFET manufacturing process, Samsung has been able to up its clock speeds by 200MHz on the CPU side and by 72MHz on the GPU side, when compared to the Exynos 5433. It is also Samsung’s first SoC with LPDDR4 memory support, which runs in a 32-bit dual-channel configuration with a clock speed of 1552MHz. Peak bandwidth reaches 25.6 GB/s.
(Best-Processor) Performance tests
Getting performance tests right is hard for several reasons. First, replicating the exact same conditions for each test run is difficult as even variations in temperature can alter test results. Second, benchmarks tend to be artificial and don’t reflect real world usages. Therefore when testing it is good to use benchmarks like AnTuTu and Geekbench. But it is also important to simulate real world scenarios like launching a game while monitoring the performance. To further augment these tests I have written a couple of apps. The first one tests the SoCs processing power by calculating a large number of SHA1 hashes, performing a large bubble sort, shuffling a large table and then calculating the first 10 million primes. The second app uses a 2D physics engine to simulate water being poured into a container and measuring the number of droplets that can be processed in 90 seconds. At 60 frames per second the maximum score is 5400.
Although AnTuTu is one of the “standard” benchmarks for Android that tests both CPU performance and GPU performance, it is important to understand that the test loads used are completely artificial and don’t reflect real life scenarios. However, as long as we take that into consideration then the numbers can be useful to get a general “feel” of how the SoC performs.
I performed two tests with AnTuTu. First, I just ran the test on the device from a fresh boot, then I ran the 3D demo game Epic Citadel for 30 minutes (in the hope of heating up the phones a bit) and then I re-ran the benchmark. The results are below:
As you can see the Samsung Exynos 7420 is the fastest followed by the Snapdragon 810. Those two results were expected as they come from my comparison of the Snapdragon 810, the Exynos 7420, the MediaTek Helio X10, and the Kirin 935. However the question remained, where would the Intel Atom Z3580 fit? Well as you can see it came in last with a score of under 50,000 while the other two managed over 60,000 peaking near 70,000. Compared to other leading SoCs, only the MediaTek Helio X10 and the Snapdragon 801 perform worse on AnTuTu.
As I said, AnTuTu is an artificial benchmark (as is Geekbench etc), however it does give us a good feel of how the SoC performs. In fact throughout all of the other tests we will see the same story, first Samsung, then Qualcomm and then Intel.
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