How to Choose Processor for Smartphone or Tablet?

How to Choose Processor for Smartphone or Tablet?

Modern smartphones and tablets are built on the basis of energy-efficient processor architecture ARM or x86_64. Unlike the desktop and laptop market, where only two companies (Intel and AMD) rule the ball, mobile processors produce dozens of vendors.

Basic knowledge

Calling chips of modern smartphones processors is not entirely correct. More relevant is the term single-chip systems (from English system-on-a-chip or SoC). In addition to four or eight processor cores, they include an integrated graphics accelerator, a memory controller, a 3G / LTE modem, a Wi-Fi adapter, a GPS navigation module and optionally other components. Nevertheless, according to the old habit and for simplicity of understanding, single-chip systems are still called processors.

The main processor architecture of smartphones and tablets is ARM, developed by the British company ARM Holdings. It does not release chips on its own, but only licenses its work to other vendors. So, Mediatek and Huawei produce processors on the finished drawings of ARM Holdings. While Qualcomm, Samsung , Apple and NVIDIA develop their own chips, compatible with the set of instructions ARM.

An alternative to ARM is the x86_64 architecture promoted by Intel . Processors x86_64 are more productive, but also more energy-efficient than ARM. Therefore, Intel has suffered a fiasco in the smartphone market, but at the same time, not bad feels in the segment of tablets. After all, for smartphones is more important long time without recharging, while tablets are positioned as a replacement for laptops and often require high performance from them.

We note that within the framework of this article we will only consider current models of processors and only widespread smartphones and tablets based on them. Besides them, there is a great many other rare and even exotic chips.

Entry-level processors

How to Choose Processor for Smartphone or Tablet?

Now the weakest ARM processor on the market is Spreadtrum T-Shark SC8830 with a frequency of 1.2 GHz. It is used in the smartphone Samsung Galaxy J1 mini 2016 and tablet Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite Plus 3G 8GB. It has four more 32-bit (shorter instruction lengths, slower calculation) core ARM Cortex-A7 (speed 1.9 DMIPS / MHz) and an old graphics accelerator Mali-400, which copes only with new two-dimensional games or old three-dimensional ones. At the same time, for surfing the web, watching online video and chatting the SC8830 suffices with a head. Therefore, we recommend buying to users with extremely limited budgets.

Having paid for a smartphone or a tablet only a little more, you can get a much more modern chip. Twin-brothers with four 64-bit Cortex-A53 cores (2.3 DMIPS / MHz) are Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 (1.4 GHz frequency, 28 nm process technology), MediaTek MT6735 (1.3 GHz, 28 nm) and Samsung Exynos 7570 (1.5 GHz, 14 nm). The first built Samsung Galaxy J5 2016, Asus Zenfone Max 8GB ZC550KL, CoolPAD Torino S and Lenovo Tab 3 7 Plus 16GB. On the second – Meizu M2 Mini, Doogee X5 Pro and Oukitel K6000. Finally, on the third – so far only one Samsung Galaxy J5 Prime 2016.

For 3D games, Snapdragon 410 is better suited, as game developers optimize their creations primarily with Qualcomm Adreno graphics accelerators. Least of all, the Exynos 7570 battery consumes everything – thanks to the 14-nm process technology (less transistors, lower power consumption). And MT6735 can boast of the fact that it is based on a great many budget smartphones from well-known and not so Chinese brands.

Middle-level processors

How to Choose Processor for Smartphone or Tablet?

ARM processors for smartphones and midrange tablets are built on the same Cortex-A53 cores, but with a higher frequency of 2 GHz. The number of cores has been doubled – up to eight, which makes smart phones truly multitask. The brightest representatives of middle-level ARM-chips are Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, Samsung Exynos 7880, Huawei Kirin 655 (formerly HiSilicon), MediaTek Helio P10 and P20, and newcomers to the mobile processor market – Xiaomi Surge S1.

The most optimal is, perhaps, Snapdragon 625: it has a graphics optimized for the game Adreno 506 (pulls all modern toys at high graphics settings) and a thin 14-nm process technology, which means a good autonomy of the smartphone. This chip is used in Huawei Nova Dual Sim, Xiaomi Redmi 4 Pro 32GB and Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X 32GB, Asus Zenfone 3 32GB ZE520KL and Lenovo P2 Dual.

The processors Exynos 7880 and Kirin 655 are built smartphones Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 and Samsung Galaxy A7 2017, Huawei P8 Lite 2017 Dual Sim and Huawei GR5 2017,  respectively. The characteristics of the processors are very similar: 14 and 16-nm process technology is equally economical in terms of power consumption, and integrated 3D accelerators of the Mali-T800 series allow you to play at least on average graphics settings.

The same graphics Mali-T800 is used in chips Helio P10: Meizu M5 Note 32GB, Motorola Moto M Dual SIM, Sony Xperia XA Dual; P20 – Meizu M3x 32GB and Surge S1 – Xiaomi Mi-5c 32GB . That’s only because of the outdated 28-nm process technology for a long time will not work – the battery will sit down.

Flagship processors

How to Choose Processor for Smartphone or Tablet?

The top mobile chips at the moment are: Qualcomm Snapdragon 650/652/653, 660, 820/821 and 830/835, MediaTek Helio X20 / X25 / X30, Samsung Exynos 8890/8898, Huawei Kirin 955/960, Apple A10, Intel Atom X5 / X7 and NVIDIA Tegra K1. They are quite different from each other by the circuit of the structure, but they are united by one – a relatively short time without recharging, which is a payoff for power.

So, the six-core Snapdragon 650 ( Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Pro 32GB, Sony Xperia X Dual) And eight-core 652 (Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Plus 32GB) and 653 are based on the ARM big.LITTLE architecture: part of the cores are powerful energy-hungry Cortex-A72 (4.8 DMIPS / MHz), part of the weak energy-efficient Cortex-A53. Depending on the complexity of the task, the smartphone uses the first or second group of cores. Graphics accelerator Adreno 510 allows you to run all games on ultra-settings.

The same scheme big.LITTLE built ten-core chips Helio X20 ( Meizu MX6), X25 ( Meizu Pro 6 32GB) and X30 (novelty, the devices are expected in the second half of 2017). Differ from the Snapdragon 600-series graphics Mali-T800, slightly worse for games (only medium or high settings).

Exynos 8890 (Samsung Galaxy S7 32GB), 8898 ( Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus), Kirin 955 (Huawei P9) and 960 ( Huawei P10) again are Samsung exclusives (with the exception of Meizu Pro 6 Plus 64GB) and Huawei. As graphics, the older Exynos 8898 and Kirin 960 use the latest Mali-G71 (ultra-tuning in games with a margin for the future). The older cores in the big.LITTLE scheme of Samsung own development M1 Mongoose (5.1 DMIPS / MHz), and Huawei – widely-distributed Cortex-A72.

The most powerful of the most powerful are the quad-core Snapdragon 820/821 ( Xiaomi Mi-5s 64GB, HTC 10 32GB, LG G5 DualSim) And eight-core 660 and 830/835 on the architecture of Qualcomm Kryo. Their performance is equal to 6.3 DMIPS / MHz, which is a quarter faster than any competitor.

Separately from the others are processors Apple A10 ( Apple iPhone 7 32GB and Apple iPhone 7 Plus 32GB), Intel Atom X5 / X7 and NVIDIA Tegra K1. The brainchild of Apple has two high-performance cores Hurricane and two more energy-efficient Zephyr – both the first and the second own development. The graphics are powered by a powerful PowerVR GT7600. Although in the case of mobile devices Apple is not so important, because with the unified hardware and software, game developers are not difficult to bring their creations to the utmost smoothness, even on relatively old models of the iPhone and iPad.

The chips NVIDIA Tegra and Intel Atom in smartphones no longer apply. The first are equipped with the most powerful mobile graphics on the market, GeForce ULP, so they are used in gaming consoles nVIDIA Shield 16GB and Nintendo Switch. The elements of the second are Android and Windows tablets: Xiaomi MiPad 2 16GB, Asus Transformer Mini T102HA 64GB, Chuwi Hi12  and etc.

In addition to Atom in the range of Intel there are even more powerful chips for tablets – Core M , built on a full desktop architecture Skylake or Kaby Lake. In addition to the tablets they are used in transformers and ultrabooks.


It is important to understand that while on smartphones and tablets (with the exception of Windows-models) there are no really resource-intensive applications. Therefore, everyone and everyone should not chase the newest and most powerful ARM-processors. Even for games with three-dimensional graphics, such as GTA: San-Andreas, Asphalt 8 and Modern Kombat 5, there are enough medium-level processors – Snapdragon 625, Helio P10 or the like. No problem coping with such chips, even with video editing on a smartphone.

How to Choose Processor for Smartphone or Tablet? was last modified: April 8th, 2017 by Tomas Shellby