There’s no denying that smartphones are becoming pretty powerful; quad-core processors are now the standard in high-end handsets and clock speeds are creeping up into laptop territory as well. However, the one big problem that mobile technology still faces is the limitations imposed by running processors on a battery.
With the likes of the Exynos 5 Octa and Snapdragon 600 offering pretty much all the power you’ll need in a smartphone, the next big battleground is likely to be fought over power consumption. New architectures like big.LITTLE demonstrate that chip designers understand the problems associated with increasingly power hungry processors, but it’s hard to tell which chip manufacturer actually has the best energy efficiency.
Fortunately for us, ABI Research has conducted some tests which not only look at the peak performance of the current top of the line chips, but also the average and peak currents drawn under various conditions.
The test included some of the top of the line handsets and tablets using some of the best performing processors currently available on the market, the Intel Z2580 CloverTrail+-powered Lenovo K900 smartphone, Snapdragon 600 and Exynos 5 Octa versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4, the dual-core Exynos 5250 Nexus 10, and finally the Nexus 7 which utilises the Nvidia Tegra 3 chip. You can take a look at the results table below.
The results show a benchmark score followed by the average and peak current draw during the test. Intel’s chip scores highest on the most tests and draws the least current, and it’s only beaten by the Exynos 5 Octa when it comes to GPU performance.
Just looking at the base CPU score alone, the dual-core CloverTrail+ comes out on top by a couple of hundred points, followed by the four Krait 300 cores in the Snapdragon 600, and Samsung’s Exynos 5 Octa chip, which houses four Cortex A15 and four A7 cores, following closely behind. But the real surprise can be seen if you glance over slightly to the right: the CloverTrail+ draws significantly less current than its competitors.
The average CPU drain on the Lenovo K900 was just 0.85 amps, whilst the supposedly energy efficient Exynos 5 Octa Galaxy S4 drew an average of 1.38 amps, and the Snapdragon 600 drew a massive 1.79 amps on average. Peak current draw is even more telling, 1.05 amps peak for the Z2580, 1.71 amps peak for the Octa, and 2.10 amps for the Snapdragon 600, making the CloverTrail+ not only the fastest but also the most energy efficient processor out of these current top of the line components.
ABI engineering Vice President Jim Mielke summed up the company’s findings:
The ARM architecture used by nearly all of Intel's competitors is well known for its low power performance but in bringing the processing power up closer to PC levels, the current drain has taken a significant hit.
The closest competitor to the current draw of the CloverTrail+ is the rather outdated Tegra 3, which uses four ARM Cortex A9 cores rather than the newer, and more power hungry, Cortex A15 cores found in the Exynos 5 processors. But the old Tegra 3 languishes really far behind in terms of performance, scoring only half as well as Intel’s processor.
It seems that Intel has finally managed to find the right balance of power and energy efficiency after some dubious performance results with its previous Atom chips. But we’re still waiting to see more handset manufacturers implement Intel’s processor technology.
With high-end smartphones pushing the performance and energy boundaries, Intel seems to have found the sweet spot. But if consumers continue to demand more performance, then Intel’s next line-up of BayTrail chips could provide real competition to ARM’s processors.
Intel is already promising significant performance and energy improvements over the current Saltwell cores used in its CloverTrail+ SoCs, which would put the Silvermont-based BayTrail even further ahead of the current top of the line offerings from Samsung and Qualcomm.
In fact, as the Exynos 5 Octa is designed to be Samsung’s flagship processor, the company could see itself falling significantly behind Intel in terms of raw performance for the first time in the smartphone business. Similarly, Qualcomm will have to rely on its upcoming Snapdragon 800 processor to compete with Intel’s next-gen chips, but we’re currently unsure exactly how well that chip will perform.
Intel’s new Silvermont architecture will supposedly double its peak performance over Saltwell, but will consume only a quarter of the power whilst in a low-power mode.
Similarly, with BayTrail set to be even more power efficient than CloverTrail+, ARM based processors are going to have to find significant improvements in energy efficiency in order to compete. The only thing holding CloverTrail+ back at the moment is the lack of an integrated LTE solution, which is an important feature for high-end markets. However, the new BayTrail Atom SoCs will be shipping with integrated LTE bfore 2014, which could see Intel finally get some decent market share in the mobile processor buesiness.
If Intel manages to capitalise on this growing gap in battery efficiency whilst offering top of the line performance and a fully integrated SoC, then I can definitely see consumers flocking to Intel-powered handsets to reap the benefits of improved battery life.
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Looking at the trend…
Intel chips will soon over take the majority of performances.
Qualcom SoCs are showing trends of rather considerable power usage, nothing a bigger battery can’t solve.
Samsung SoC is too early to tell, but seeing the benchmark scores and the Exynos 4 performance, should be a solid contender as well.
You just forgot one major contender (as this article does).
The new MediaTek SoCs are amazing. Super cheap, best bang for money I think- FASTER THAN EXYNOS 4!
Still, until their new LTE modules ship out, it will remain less popular in the west I guess. Not that it matters when you own half of China.
And Tegra. Tegra 4 I have no idea how powerful it would be. All the previous Tegra 3 devices were manufactured with some serious flaws: both ASUS and HTC killed the SoC performance with extreme IO bottleneck. Not that the lower than average memory bandwidth helped.
Tegra 4 is A15 cores with custom accelerators no?
nice! way to go intel!
Really hope to see the battery saving trend continue
Wow. COMPLETELY blows the competition out of the water! Bravo.
This will push the competition further. I can’t wait to get my hand on Nexus device with Silvermont :D
Great, but is it true that phones with Intel chips have less compatible apps because of x86 architecture?
I’m using an Intel powered Asus FonePad and nearly all the apps are compatible, give and take a few.
I read somewhere that Intel did a workaround for those “incompatible” apps but would result in less performance in said apps.
But still, i’m gaming well on my Single core Intel-based tablet.
Perhaps it’s time to buy some Intel stock?
They really need to improve on Display efficiency. On the Galaxy S4 and most smartphones, if not all, it is the Display that eats up upwards of 75% of battery power.
empire strikes back mobile edition
they mean i337
I don’t trust these bench marks, I want to see some antutu ones to back this up
Antutu measures many metrics and aggregates them. Clearly not the best way to compare SoCs, let alone CPU.
I don’t care just about the cpu , its the entire soc I want. I would also like to see geekbench results as well