Smartphone Processors Explained: Qualcomm, MediaTek, Exynos and Tensor

In the smartphone era, there is a lot of competition between different smartphone processors. The market is currently dominated by Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Samsung, three major tech companies. Other companies, such as Google, have also released new processors, such as the Tensor.

Qualcomm offers Snapdragon CPUs, Samsung offers Exynos processors, while MediaTek offers, well, MediaTek processors. Every chipmaker excels at different things and has flaws in different areas. A new big player has recently entered this list: Google. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro were the first phones to feature Tensor, Google's first in-house SoC, which will power Pixel phones moving forward.

Smartphone Processors

Let’s see all the processors in detail:

The Fan-Favorite: Snapdragon

Because of its Snapdragon CPUs, Qualcomm is regarded as the king of Android chips by both reviewers and users. For a number of years, the high-end chips from the US designer have been considered the best Android phone processors, delivering a strong CPU, class-leading graphics, and cutting-edge networking.

Qualcomm is the world's largest supplier of smartphone SoCs, with chips appearing in the majority of flagship, mid-tier, and even low-end smartphones released each year. Snapdragon chips are available in a variety of configurations, each with varying performance and intended for different price points.

The Snapdragon 800 series, which includes the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Snapdragon 888, is the company's flagship silicon these days, and with good reason.

The Snapdragon 888 was the mainstream Snapdragon 800 series CPU for 2021, and it marked a significant step forward for Qualcomm's flagship SoC line. To begin with, it's the first Qualcomm smartphone chipset to use a 5nm manufacturing process, resulting in a smaller, more efficient design.

Pic credit: Qualcomm
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which was introduced in December 2021 and powers plenty of high-end phones, will be the top-end Snapdragon flagship chipset in 2022. This is a significant release for Qualcomm because it introduces a new naming convention. The Snapdragon 8xx naming scheme has been discontinued in favour of a single digit and the "Gen x" suffix.

Qualcomm has also changed its naming convention for mid-range chips to "Gen 1." In May 2022, the Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 was introduced.

The Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 was released in May 2022, and it may be the most significant mid-year upgrade ever. Qualcomm shifted manufacturing from Samsung to TSMC, citing a 30% efficiency boost and a 10% increase in CPU clock speed across the board as a result. The updated chipset also sees a 10% increase in GPU clock speed and a 20% increase in performance-per-watt.

Of course, there are drawbacks as well. Qualcomm chips are often more expensive than their competitors, especially in the flagship department—the Snapdragon 865 suffered a large price increase in 2020, prompting OEMs such as Google and LG to employ mid-range chips instead.

Astonishing Results: Exynos

Samsung is one of the few smartphone manufacturers who can design and manufacture their own processors, with Apple and Huawei being the only two prominent players. This allows the corporation to develop chips that are customized to its exact specifications while still saving a few pennies.

Exynos chipsets are frequently compared to Qualcomm chipsets, despite the fact that they are less widely used than Snapdragon processors. Samsung's Exynos processors are used in the company's own phones all over the world (although Samsung uses Snapdragon in some markets like the US mainly because of the modem).

Samsung's Exynos SoCs are divided into three categories: premium, mid-tier, and entry-level. The Exynos 9900, 9800, and 9600 series were previously included, with the Exynos 7000 series products supporting the budget end of the spectrum. The Exynos 2200 is Samsung's most recent high-end chip, whereas the Exynos 1080 is a 5G mid-tier chipset.

When it comes to performance, Exynos chipsets are often on par with, if not better than, Snapdragon chipsets. This is especially true at the high end. The Snapdragon 888 and the Exynos 2100 were the best-performing chips in 2021, with both CPUs outperforming each other in distinct conditions. The same thing happened with the Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990 in the prior iteration. They compete against one another, and there is rarely a clear winner.

Pic credit: Samsung
The Exynos 2200 features a Samsung 4nm architecture and the new Armv9 CPU cores. The core layout is similar to Mediatek and Qualcomm's latest SoCs, with a single Cortex-X2 core for heavy lifting, three Cortex-A710 cores for medium jobs, and four Cortex-A510 cores for little chores. Samsung uses more general CPU/GPU designs than Qualcomm, but it isn't afraid to bring out the big guns on occasion. It's possible that it'll use Radeon GPUs in its circuits at some time.

A good mid-range processor: MediaTek

MediaTek doesn't always get the credit it deserves, but it's understandable. MediaTek, like Qualcomm, is a Taiwanese chipmaker that sells processors to other OEMs.

Many OEMs, including some well-known brands, have used MediaTek CPUs. MediaTek chips have also been used by Samsung, as well as Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo, and plenty of other firms.

While Qualcomm is frequently regarded as the king of the Android CPU market, MediaTek has a slight lead in terms of sales. MediaTek chips are found in 43 percent of smartphones worldwide, according to market share. Qualcomm, on the other hand, only has a 24 percent market share, which is still important but bears little resemblance.

The MediaTek Dimensity 9000 system-on-chip (SoC) is a powerful mobile flagship Android SoC that competes with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Google's Tensor. The company's top mobile chip is labeled a "milestone of invention," with "everything inside its highly powerful—yet super power efficient—4nm packaging screaming flagship processor." Indeed, this was the world's first 4nm mobile semiconductor, and early performance findings were impressive.

Pic credit: MediaTek
MediaTek's Helio lineup included anything from low-cost P series chips to high-end G series gaming processors. The Dimensity 9000, the company's latest flagship series, is based on Arm's latest v9 architecture. It's also the first mobile processor to feature a 3.05GHz Cortex-X2 core with 1MB of L2 cache. The 1+3+4 arrangement is built around this concept. Three Cortex-A710 cores running at up to 2.85GHz with 512KB of L2 cache and four Cortex-A510 cores running at up to 1.8GHz with 256KB of L2 cache per core are among the other components. 8MB L3 cache and 6MB system cache are shared by all eight cores.

However, MediaTek has a negative reputation among Android users because it's frequently used to power low-end, slow, and cheap phones. However, MediaTek's mid-range and high-end products, which include the company's flagship Dimensity series as well as several Helio chips, are actually very good CPUs. For a fraction of the price, they'll probably perform as well as a Snapdragon-powered phone.

Bring in the Newcomer: Tensor

Google is a newcomer to the chip industry. The Google Tensor, which powers the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, was unveiled this year. And, being Google's initial chips, they still have a long way to go before realising the full promise of Google silicon. They do, however, have a few distinguishing features.

Pic credit: Google
Their concentration on AI, machine learning, and security, owing to the Titan M2 chip, is one of them. Google's AI smarts are embedded in every component of the chip, even going so far as to include AI co-processors in its phones. The processor can also compete with the market's most powerful CPUs, going head to head with the Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100—even if the Tensor falls behind at times.

Google still has a long way to go. The CPU isn't even entirely in-house, since evidence suggests that Samsung may have assisted the startup. That's not a big deal—Apple, too, launched with essentially Samsung silicon. However, it makes us optimistic about the future.

Even if the initial wave of Tensor did not break new ground in typical computation activities, it does provide a glimpse into the Pixel series' and smartphone industry's futures. Google has already announced that a second-generation Tensor SoC is in the works, and that it will arrive alongside the Pixel 7. The latest Cortex-X2 CPU cores, which we've already seen in the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, should be included.

Which one should I go for?

There is no right or wrong answer in this situation. The truth is that it makes no difference which CPU brand you have. They're all fantastic in their own way, and there's unlikely to be a clear winner in a fair contest. When we get into specifics, though, the answer becomes a little more complicated.

It's either Qualcomm or Exynos if you want the very best performance, but Snapdragon is arguably the better pick if you want an open smartphone that's easy to customize. If you're searching for a mid-range processor, Snapdragon is a nice option, but you can also look into MediaTek possibilities and still get a great value. Finally, if you're a Google devotee, the Tensor will not disappoint you.

In the end, it doesn't matter whatever chipset your phone uses. What counts are the technical specifications of your phone's silicon. If you're looking for a gadget, make sure to check for objective comparisons between its unique chipset and the differences between it and its competitors before making a decision.

The Android family is diverse; it is not just about the hardware within, but also about the software.

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