System on a chip guide – Autumn 2014

August 25, 2014

ARM Processor

2014 has been a bit of a slow year for mobile processor releases. Qualcomm has ticked over a few new Snapdragon processors over the past year, but we haven’t seen any big performance improvements in quite a while. The industry and Android consumers alike are waiting on the hop over to ARM’s 64-bit ARMv8 architecture. New hardware and the introduction of  Android L later this year will finally mark its arrival.

Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung, and Nvidia all have new processors lined-up for release in late 2014 / early 2015, so here is everything you need to know about the upcoming chips.

Qualcomm’s 64-bit Snapdragons

We will start with the most prevalent mobile system on a chip manufacturer – Qualcomm.

The Snapdragon 800 series of processors has been the staple of premium smartphone manufacturers for the past year, but revisions like the Snapdragon 801 and 805 have not brought much in the way of performance improvements. Although we have begun to see a few devices make use of Qualcomm’s new Adreno 420 GPU, found in the Snapdragon 805, the SoC is still mainly used for its lightning fast 300mbps LTE-A download capabilities and isn’t a huge improvement over the existing range.

Instead, most consumers are looking forward to the first 64-bit ARMv8 SoCs, which will appear in the company’s Snapdragon 410, 610, and 615 SoCs that are heading to market later this year. However, these processors aren’t going to be the company’s most premium 64-bit SoC designs. Those will be coming later on next year in the form of the Snapdragon 808 and 810.

Cortex-A53-performance-chart

In terms of performance then, we again aren’t going to see a big step forward from Qualcomm this year. The 410, 610, and 615 are instead all based on ARM’s Cortex-A53 CPU cores, which is the successor to the more energy efficient Cortex-A9, rather than the more powerful Cortex-A15. According to ARM, we can expect performance to be somewhere in the range of the existing Cortex-A9, which was found in a quad-core configuration in the Galaxy Note 2’s Exynos 4412 SoC. However, energy efficiency will be much higher, allowing developers like Qualcomm to add in additional cores for more peak performance without crippling battery life.

Some in this new line-up of Qualcomm processors will also be using the company’s new Adreno 400 series GPUs, which will offer up additional graphics performance and further energy efficiencies. Here’s a breakdown of exactly what you can find in each of the upcoming Snapdragons and how they compare with the current flagships.

Snapdragons
801
805
410
610
615
Architecture32-bit32-bit32/64-bit32/64-bit32/64-bit
Core Countquad-corequad-corequad-corequad-coreocta-core
CPU4x Krait 4004x Krait 4504x Cortex-A534x Cortex-A538x Cortex-A53
CPU Clock2450 MHz2700 MHz1400 MHz1700 MHz4x 1700 MHz, 4x 1000 MHz
GPUAdreno 330Adreno 420Adreno 306Adreno 405Adreno 405
LTE-A SpeedsCat 4, 150MbpsCat 6, 300MbpsCat 4, 150MbpsCat 4, 150MbpsCat 4, 150Mbps
Max Camera21MP55MP13.5MP21MP21MP
Max Display2K4KWUXGA2K2K
Process28nm28nm28nm28nm28nm

As you can tell from the table, the new 600 series Snapdragons won’t quite match the current crop of premium Snapdragon processors in every regard. Performance of the 410 and 610 won’t keep up with the current 801 or newer 805, but the octa-core nature of the 615 could provide a little extra performance in heavily multi-threaded environments. The Adreno 405 is also not expected to match the GPU performance of the existing Adreno 330. We will have to wait for the new 800 series Qualcomm SoCs to see graphics performance that exceeds the current standard.

However, energy efficiency will be improved across the board with Qualcomm’s upcoming chips, leading to devices with enough power for most situations and improved longevity, as well as improved LTE speeds for mid-range handsets.

qualcomm snapdragon 810

Looking further into 2015, and the arrival of the 20nm Snapdragon 808 and 810, CPU performance will match, and likely exceed the current processors on the market with the introduction of the Cortex-A57 – ARM’s successor to the commonly used high-performance Cortex-A15. The graphics capabilities of the Adreno 418 and 430 also offer up performance at and slightly beyond the current generation of Adreno GPUs. Furthermore, the 808 and 810 offer improved support for higher resolution displays and camera modules, and mark the first Qualcomm SoCs to reach the 20nm processing node.

The important thing to take away here is that the move to new 64-bit Qualcomm processors isn’t going to lead to an instantaneous jump in performance. The mid-range products are heading our way first, and they won’t blow current devices out of the water. Don’t worry if you just picked up a new flagship. Instead, new highs in the Qualcomm performance table are likely to come in 2015, just in time for the next batch of flagship smartphones.

Multicore MediaTek

With Qualcomm’s roadmap showing a gradual buildup to its more premium products, the end of this year could spell a big opportunity for MediaTek to make an impact on the broader smartphone market.

The company attempted to make its mark earlier in the year with the octa-core MT6592, but the Cortex-A7 design failed to match the raw performance of heftier quad-core processors, and the lack of integrated LTE made it a poor choice for premium devices. However, MediaTek has already announced an improved octa-core design and two ARMv8 Cortex-A53 based SoCs for later this year, all with LTE integration.

 
MT6592
MT6595
MT6732
MT6795
Architecture32-bit32-bit32/64-bit32/64-bit
Core Countocta-coreocta-corequad-coreocta-core
CPU8x Cortex-A74x Cortex-A17, 4x Cortex-A74x Cortex-A538x Cortex-A53
CPU Clock1700/2000 MHz4x 2500 MHz, 4x 1700 MHz1500 MHzup to 2200 MHz
GPUMali-450 MPPowerVR G6200Mali-T760PowerVR G6200
LTE-A Speedsn/aCat 4, 150MbpsCat 4, 150MbpsCat 4, 150Mbps
Max Camera16MP20MP13MP20MP
Max Display1080p2K2K2K
Process28nm28nm28nm28nm

The MT6595 makes use of four Cortex-A17 cores, which we haven’t seen a lot of before, combined with four energy efficient Cortex-A7s. Essentially, the A-17 is designed to offer up Cortex-A15 levels of performance, but with less energy consumption and a lower heat profile.

When it comes to MediaTek’s ARMv8 designs, the chips appears very similar to Qualcomm’s upcoming processors, at least on the CPU side of things. Looking at the GPU, the Mali-T760 is ARM’s new flagship performance GPU design, whilst the PowerVR G6200 is similar to the GPU found in the iPhone 5S. In terms of performance, the T-760 has been shown to outperform Qualcomm’s Adreno 420. These two GPUs should outpace the new Qualcomm 610 and 615 chips in graphics tasks, making MediaTek’s new line-up of SoCs a series contender in the first batch of 64-bit smartphones and tablets.

Exynos 5433 vs Snapdragon 805 GPU AnTuTu

The Mali-T760 seems to have the edge at QHD (2560×1400) resolutions.

As well as performance improvements, MediaTek has been upping its game in the features department too. The company now offers integrated LTE options with its processors, with support for Category 4 150Mbps speeds. The company’s newest chips also support premium features like higher resolution displays, 480 fps slow motion video recording, and support for camera modules with a large megapixel count.

Although we aren’t yet sure which devices will be making use of MediaTek’s new line-up of processors, on paper the company is all set to compete with the premium mobile processor brands when 64-bit finally arrives.

Nvidia’s Denver CPU

Speaking of GPUs, the graphical powerhouse that is the Nvidia Tegra K1 has been on our radar for quite a while now. With 192 GPU “cores” taken directly from Nvidia’s desktop Kepler graphics architecture, Nvidia’s powerful SoC has promised us the best graphics performance in the business. We have seen it at the top of graphics benchmarks since it was announced, and the first products to use the chip have shown impressive graphics capabilities.

Tegra K1 AnTuTu

You are probably quite familiar with Nvidia’s existing “4-Plus-1” CPU setup, which uses a quad-core 2.2GHz ARM Cortex-A15 setup complete with a low power companion core for improved background energy efficiency. The first generation Tegra K1 has just begun to show up in devices like the Shield Tablet, Xiaomi MiPad, and a new range of Acer Chrombooks.

However, with other SoC developers moving over to 64-bit and new CPU architectures, the Tegra K1 already looks a little outdated. Fortunately Nvidia already announced that it has a 64-bit “Denver” CPU version of the Tegra K1 that should appear in mobile devices come the end of this year.

64-bit Tegra K1 processor with Denver chip

Unlike other SoC manufacturers, Nvidia’s 64-bit Denver CPU won’t be making use multiple Cortex-A53s, although the chip retains full compatibility with the ARMv8 architecture. Nvidia’s design opts for a higher level of performance per core, a la Intel, rather than going wide with a larger number of cores, like MediaTek and Qualcomm’s upcoming SoCs.

The Denver chip can be clocked up to 2.5 GHz, but it’s more than just the clock speed that will give Nvidia’s chip a per core performance boost. Nvidia’s own benchmarks, which we should be a little wary of, puts the Denver K1’s performance close to Intel’s Haswell Celeron 2955U.

Tegra K1 Denver CPU performance

Gaming, and other CPU intensive tasks, traditionally demand stronger single core performance, which the Cortex A53 doesn’t really have. The new Tegra K1 could really shine when it comes to gaming. However, there is a potential trade-off. The lack of cores could see the Denver CPU struggle with some multitasking and multi-threaded instances, and energy efficiency might not match the upcoming big.LITTLE mobile CPU designs from the other big vendors.

Most likely, the Denver Tegra K1 will find its way into tablets and Chromebooks, which have larger batteries, rather than smartphones. Rumors already have the chip pegged to the Nexus 8.

Samsung strong ARMs Exynos

Nvidia is not the only company looking to put out a higher performance CPU design this year. Samsung also has its own 64-bit octa-core Exynos 5433 heading to market.

From what we know so far, the Exynos 5433 will feature four Crotex-A53 cores accompanied by four high performance Cortex-A57 cores. This would give the SoC a higher peak performance than any of Qualcomm’s upcoming 64-bit 600 series processors, and we’ll have to see how well it competes with Nvidia’s Denver.

ARM big.little Cortex-a57/a53

Samsung was one of the first to try out a big.LITTLE configuration, and will be continuing to use the technology next generation too

On the GPU side of things, the 5433 looks set to arrive with a high performance Mali-T760, the same GPU found in the MediaTek MT6732. Again, benchmarks have shown that Samsung’s upcoming SoC will leapfrog Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 for the top performance spot. Other features are expected to include support for QHD displays and an Intel Category 6 LTE chip, capable of 300Mbps data speeds.

Samsung Exynos 5433 AnTuTu ranking

On the smartphone side of things, Samsung also recently announced its Exynos 5430, which can already be found inside the Galaxy Alpha. This SoC has more in common with previous Exynos 5 designs. It features four 1.8GHz Cortex-A15 cores in a big.LITTLE configuration with four 1.3GHz Cortex-A7s and a Mali-T628 GPU. This is also the first mobile chip to reach the 20nm manufacturing node, and features Samsung’s own LTE Cat 6 Exynos Modem 303.

The latest Exynos processors keep Samsung near the top of the performance charts. However, as is typical for Samsung Exynos chips, it is likely that these SoCs won’t be widely available, and will instead likely only be found in certain regional models of its own devices. The Galaxy Note 4 is expected to be the first device to feature the Exynos 5433, which could launch early next month.

Intel

I guess we should mention Intel here, but there really isn’t a lot left on its product roadmap for this year. The company will be issuing a refresh to its Bay Trail tablet chips soon, but Cherry Trail now doesn’t look set to appear until mid-2015.

The company has its integrated 3G and LTE budget SoFIA chips on the way for mobile, but again we won’t be seeing these until 2015 either. On the plus side, Intel’s XMM 7160 LTE-A modem could be partnered up with its Z3580 (Moorefield) Atom mobile processors to offer a feature complete solution for mobile developers. Intel’s benchmarks for its mobile processors have been comparable to today’s high end Snapdragons, but until we get some products in our hands, Intel’s immediate roadmap is a little tougher to become excited about.

What can we expect?

Looking over the major players we can see that they will mostly be offering similar products as Android begins the transition over to 64-bit. Interestingly, MediaTek and Qualcomm look to be after the same mid and upper end of the market with their first batch of ARMv8 chips, whilst Nvidia and Samsung will be the companies with the highest performance 64-bit processors at the turn of 2015.

However, Qualcomm’s current Snapdragon 800 line-up will still be the bar to beat in the new year, and the company has already announced its more extensive roadmap for early/mid 2015. Qualcomm should have its own high performance 64-bit chips ready in time for the next generation of flagship smartphones.

Perhaps most importantly than just raw performance, we are finally seeing other competitors begin to match Qualcomm in terms of SoC features, including better DSP and camera support, graphics units capable of supporting higher resolution displays, and integrated LTE modems for faster data speeds. Whilst Qualcomm is bound to remain the biggest player in the mobile processor market in the near future, it looks like the company is in for some serious competition towards the end of this year.

Comments

  • Cole Raney

    It seems rarer and rarer to see a device not with a Qualcomm chip. Even Samsung has been using Qualcomm chips in the majority of the versions of their flagship. Nvidia has been their biggest competitor, and they sell no where near the same amount of chips.

    Hopefully Mediatek, Samsung, and Nvidia will give them stiff competition. Intel won’t be a threat for a while, and Apple doesn’t really compete in the same market. If Apple sold their chips to other phone manufacturers, they might introduce more competition. They did do 64 bit first.

    • Rama TT

      The main reason why Qualcomm has been having such a monopoly over the years is because of their ability to integrate LTE modems long before the competition did. For example Nvidia never provided an integrated modem itself. Similarly even the exynos and mediatek devices never had LTE integration before.

      • Pitahson

        my question is, is it really that hard to add an LTE module to an SOC?

        • Amuro Ray

          Qualcomm have the technology, the competitors doesnt. So if samsung/others want to add lte module to soc they got more expense on R&D

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        • Mike Reid

          Yes.

        • Rama TT

          Yup it is otherwise don’t you think Samsung would be using its home grown Exynos processors for even American markets rather than relying on Qualcomm.

          • Pitahson

            I figured out that much. My thing is, Samsung has the resources so why not integrate the. I’m assuming it’s a patent like thing

          • Rama TT

            I don’t know much but I guess it does take a lot of time to integrate LTE modems on socs its not as easy as it seems. Samsung has mostly been a contract chip manufacturer like producing chips for Apple etc. They started making their own chips for smartphones only a few years before starting with S3 I guess whereas Qualcomm has been in the chip designing business for a long time so they definitely have more expertise. However things seems to be changing as mentioned in the post itself Mediatek has its own LTE chipsets in the pipe line and even Samsung has integrated a LTE modem from Intel in their exynos processor for the Galaxy Alpha. So LTE is something definitely not going to be only Qualcomm’s field anymore.Competition is definitely picking up. And yeah maybe some patent stuff also but I guess its more to do with the fact that Samsung has very less experience in designing chips and has pre dominantly been a manufacturer rather than a designer.

          • Pitahson

            interesting. the US Note 2s had LTE and they were exynos based

          • Rama TT

            The possibility of a patent related issue seems less because as far as I know Qualcomm issues license for the use of its modems for example the iPhone 5S etc use modems made by Qualcomm or rather license it so the possibility of a patent conflict seems less to me.If Samsung wanted even they could have licensed Qualcomm’s LTE modems.

        • YourSavior

          Hey this is Rama TT over here and I have your answer with me as of why Samsung does not include or did not include LTE modems on their Socs
          As it seems its not a patent related issue. In fact Qualcomm is more than happy to license their IP which actually form a major part of their income, Similarly they have no issues in licensing their LTE modems to Samsung. For example as I said Apple does not use a Qualcomm Soc but they license their modem alone for use in the iPhone.
          As it turns out it all boils down to pricing. Samsung is actually more of a group of companies rather than one single company and these group of companies are no way associated with each other and act as independent organisations. The smartphones which you see like the S4 and S5 they are made by Samsung mobile which is a part of Samsung and the chipsets which you see like Exynos 5 Octa etc they are made by Samsung semiconductors which is again a part of Samsung. Now both Samsung Mobile and Samsung semiconductors have no relation with each other. As I said Qualcomm pretty much ruled the LTE market with their modems and hardly was their anyone else to compete with Qualcomm when it came to LTE modems. Qualcomm also makes its own Socs like S800 and S600.. What Qualcomm does is integrate the modem and Soc in one die and makes it a complete package. On the other hand is Samsung wants to integrate LTE in its exynos processor through Qualcomm they need to buy the modems from Qualcomm and Qualcomm would sell them to Samsung with a margin of their own. Lets say the S800 exlcusive of modem costs 20$ to build and the Exynos 5 Octa costs 20$ to build. Now if the LTE modem costs Qualcomm 5$ to build they would sell the S800+LTE modem for around 28$ and have a mragin for 3$. On the other hand if Qualcomm sells the LTE modem to Samsung semi conductors they would sell it at around say 7$ and earn a profit of 2$ and then Samsung semi after integrating the modem and S800 together would find the cost at about 27$ to produce and in order to have a 3$ margin like Qualcomm would need to sell the chipset at 30$ thereby making it expensive compared to Qualcomm’s offering. As I said Sam mobile is independent if Qualcomm provides a LTE chipset for 27$ and if Samsung semi conductors provides it for 30$ then Samsung Mobile would definitely prefer Qualcomm as their LTE offering is cheaper. On the other hand when it comes to 3G only offerings both Qualcomm and Samsung semi have same rates but Exynos is more powerful than Snapdragon hence Samsung mobile goes for exynos for 3G only variants. Now you might be asking why only Samsung Mobile buys Exynos that’s because Samsung semi is after all a part of Samsung and if competitors like HTC and LG start using Exynos chips they would be indirectly benefitting Samsung which they don’t want to. If this was helpful let me know

    • Mike Reid

      >Samsung has been using Qualcomm chips in the majority of the versions of their flagship

      More-so in the US/LTE markets.

      • Cole Raney

        LTE markets are a lot of their markets. I believe China is an LTE market, Europe, USA, Japan, their home country of South Korea, Canada… The list goes on and on.

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  • MasterMuffin

    No matter how good Exynos or MediaTek becomes, I won’t touch a device with one of those. I always say this, but I really like custom ROMs, kernels, mods etc. and unless Samsung and MediaTek start giving all the necessary sources in a timely manner, they’re just a big no for me. Don’t know about Nvidia or Intel, but there aren’t many popular devices with Nvidia or Intel, so no custom development either :/

    BTW I’m rooting for Intel!

    • Sir VAVA the 2nd

      I’m all about the 800 series Snapdragon. Those babies can fly!

      • Justin Robertson

        Got my nexus 5 here, despite benchmarks, I’ll never leave Qualcomm and the fast snapdragons

      • Andrew T Roach

        The architecture is 3 years old. Performance wise, the only reason the 800 series even sniffs the performance of Intel and Apple’s SoC’s is because of excessive over clocking. This leads to heat issues present in all quad core Snapdragons: Thermal Throttling.

        Also leads to high power consumption, which necessitates 3000mah batteries: But still only 1 day of battery life.

    • xoj_21

      if samsung standarize like it happen galaxy s2 international , or the s3, exynos will get support.

      the problem start with s4 that they went dual soc way.

      now with LTE i dont see a reason for that

      • MasterMuffin

        I agree, they should do that. But the sources won’t still be released, so modding will be harder.

      • Cole Raney

        They did dual SoC with the S3 too. Although that could have just been for USA and Japan. Idk.

    • Mike Reid

      Same.

      And my preference for custom ROMs and lots of dev support results in me buying the most popular devices among modder’s (Like M8), and preferring vendors with bootloader unlock programs, such as HTC, or even Sony. Samsungs and LGs have been getting more locked down the last few years.

      • MasterMuffin

        International Samsungs aren’t locked

    • Droideka

      I like Exynos and Snapdragons they’re both very good.

      Poor Intel, seems like they got late to the party again, sadly… :P

  • http://androidandme.com/ Taylor Wimberly

    You forgot HiSilicon…

  • Ninja Squirrel

    What is the difference between the Cortex and Krait? Can someone educate me please?

    • Haseeb

      Just replying so I could get a notification when someone answers.

    • Anonymousfella

      At the simplest level:
      Cortex core: Designed by ARM and used widely in other SOCs like Samsung Exynos, Mediatek etc
      Krait cores: These are custom cores made by Qualcomm based on ARM’S design to improve performance etc. A similiar approach is taken by Apple which uses custom cores in its devices (the A7 in iphone 5s is based on 64bit ARM v8).
      The main benefits are increased performance and lowered power consumption.

    • Pitahson

      From what I have learned, the krait cores is a mix between Cortex a9 and Cortex a15. It’s a hybrid basically that Qualcomm created. So truthfully, its not full on Cortex A15s. For the newer snapdragons coming next year, it is said Qualcomm will go fill Cortex a53 and a57. Main reason Ive stuck with my LG G2. Snapdragon 800/801/805 are pretty much identical (almost). 64 bit will be the next performance break and along with android L, we’re talking even more wonders than Kitkat. Already saving up $50 USD monthly for the Next HTC device (if they dont have the crappy 4mp) or the Next LG device (no contract rules lol)

  • DDT

    Mediatek is lowend crap, exynos 5433 is just overclocked 5430, tegra is an insane battery assassin and snapdragon 810 will come in 2015.
    The chip of the year is definitely Apple A8 the world’s second 64-bit ARM processor with PC class performance and super efficient. Oh… Android doesn’t offer the choice of the best SoC in the industry…..

    • Cole Raney

      I don’t know if I would call Apple’s processor the best in the industry. Sure 64 bit is nice, but the Snapdragon 800 series is amazing. You put an iPhone on one of those and I bet it would be faster.

      Apple does choose a good gpu though. They don’t make it, so I don’t know why other chip manufacturers don’t use it.

    • xoj_21

      5433 have never gpu.

    • WTF

      So true, they do have a good SOC on hand. IMHO, they lost on the battery front big time with their spec war. Running maps or fitness trackers on it for a few minutes, and it sucks the battery like an old S2!

  • Zp15

    The snapdragon 615 is a dual Quad core processor, so it doesn’t have 8 of the same cores. 4 are cortex a53 and the other 4 are a57, similar to the 810

  • Andrew T Roach

    Let me sum up the SoC space in the next year more briefly.

    Nvidia doing custom cores.

    Everyone else using stock ARM cores. Including Qualcomm.

    The entire mobile space is moving towards low cost models. SoC vendors are moving away from performance parts with high R&D. Including Qualcomm.

    • Ninja Squirrel

      Indeed Nvidia Tegra K1 is a great processor and a powerhouse. Why people still complain that only Sanpgradons are ideal for smartphones, but not Tegra K1 CPUs, Tegra K1 is ideal for tablets only. I haven’t seen any Nvidia Tegra powered smartphone after my previous HTC One X. Why most Android OEMs don’t choose Nvidia for smartphones?

  • Andrew T Roach

    FYI Antutu on iOS is unreliable because the 5S MAXES OUT the 3D portion of the test.

  • OhYeah

    what is the difference between 1080p n 2K?