The H1 2017 edition Our mobile chipset guide

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Introduction

Some of you may know your Kirins and your Snapdragons, but others end up frustrated how to gauge the performance of a chipset inside the phone of their dreams based on the number of cores or the clock rate. This is where this article steps in. It’s a guide to modern day mobile chipsets. It’s meant as a long-term reference resource that you can always get back to when you are unsure which is which.

We’ve focused this one around the hardware that runs our smartphones. This is not about phone brands or models; this is about their silicone hearts.

We went through the large set of data, which we have built over the years, and we compared the performance aspect of the more popular families of processing chips.

Mobile chipset guide

Hopefully, there will be a little bit of information for everyone in this overview. Just for the sake of clarity and a little bit of introduction to the subject, we will kick things off with our take on a general tour of chipsets and their properties. If you feel that is way too “entry-level” for your taste and would much rather analyze some performance data with us, you should probably jump ahead to the page after that.

Feel free to take away anything you see fit from the following paragraphs and share your opinion in the comments. Of course, don’t judge us too harshly if we’ve tripped up on a detail here or there. We intend this to be a bi-annual feature so if there is room for improvement; we’ll make sure we keep our suggestions for the next one. !

Head over to the next page to learn more about the mobile chipset architecture and the challenges and the compromises chipsets designers have to make. There we also discuss the most important aspects of a CPU’s specs and how not to get fooled by the multi-core marketing talk.

  • Page 2: Here’s what makes your smartphone tick

On Page 3 we drill down to uncover even more details about the cores that make up a CPU. We discuss designs, performance considerations, generations and we even compare their performance plotted across a chart. Watch out for an interesting bit of info about which is the highest clock rate on a mass-market smartphone CPU.

  • Page 3: ARM-based cores explained

And finally, on Page 4 we zoom back out again and look at the chipset the way it’s supposed to be looked at – as a system. We check out how the most popular chipsets stack against each other regarding performance and look at the processor families by the top manufacturers individually.

  • Page 4: How all the chipsets stack up, conclusion

The all-mighty chipset

So what is a chipset anyway? Much like the name suggests, a chipset is a set of chips, tasked with controlling the data flow between the integral parts of the system, like the central processor, the memory, the storage, as well as the input and output devices and peripherals. With computers this hardware part rarely determines the quality of the user experience – the processing power there comes from the CPU.

But with smartphones, it’s a whole different story. If we are still looking for a personal computer analogy, the mobile chipset houses the CPU plus a ton of other things. Imagine someone took your computer’s entire motherboard, CPU, and graphics card and they shrunk them down to a tiny element that is smaller than most postmarks. It’s what System-on-a-chip is. Enter the SoC.

In a modern smartphone or tablet, the chipset, or the technically more correct SoC, houses so many integral components, that there is hardly anything important left outside of it. Sure, this is an extreme overstatement, but the fact is that a modern Qualcomm or MediaTek SoCs typically house not only the CPU and GPU cores but also various modems, sensors, navigation and communication tech, as well as controllers and data channels to everything from RAM and storage to cameras and fingerprint readers. And that’s just the start of the component list.

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