Mobile CPUs and overall hardware notes

If you’ve been following the main smart phone forum then you’ve likely seen the CPU thread. While it is heavily Android-centric due to the large proliferation of Android devices, that isn’t the intent of that thread. This thread, rather, will go into more detail for Android specifically. I will highly key milestones in Android’s evolution.

In 2008, we saw the T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream) launch as the first Android phone. It would be run Android 1.0 and be the first to be upgraded to 1.1, 1.5, and 1.6. The G1 featured a Qualcomm MSM7201A SOC running an ARM11 CPU at 528mhz. This CPU put out 660 DMIPS, which was near unprecedented at that time.


the Motorola Droid (Milestone) was the first serious Android device. It launched with version 2.0, and using the TI OMAP 3430 clocked at 550mhz output 1100 DMIPS, nearly doubly the performance of the G1.


Android exploded in 2010. However, there was only one truly milestone release, and that was the Google Nexus One. Made by HTC, the Google Nexus One used a Qualcomm Snapdragon S1, which at 1ghz, output 2100 DMIPS. This was nearly double that of the Droid which had releases only 2 months early. This chipset was so powerful that it wasn’t beaten until near the end of the year (TI OMAP 3630, 2400 DMIPS), and was even uses as the basis for all Windows Phone 7 devices in 2010.


If 2010 was the Android explosion, then 2011 was the technical revolution. The first major milestone was the Motorola Atrix, which uses the Tegra 2 SOC at 1ghz. This SOC put out 5000 DMIPS, more than doubling the performance of the Nexus One.

HTC then released their Sensation, which uses the 1.2ghz Snapdragon S3. This SOC put out 5040 DMIPS, providing OEMs a cheaper alternative to Tegra 2 that also included the radio built-in, while still providing comparable performance.

The next milestone was the Samsung Galaxy S2. Using the Exynos SOC featuring an ARM Cortex A9 CPU clocked at 1.2ghz, this phone put out an impressive 6000 DMIPS. This was released within a month of the sensation and 3 months of the Atrix.

Late the party as always was Texas Instruments with their OMAP 4 series of SOCs. The Droid 3 released several months after the Galaxy S2 using the OMAP 4430 at 1ghz, it was about as powerful as the Tegra 2 outputting 5000 DMIPS. While it was nothing special, it did preclude the eventual release of the OMAP 4460. Clocked at 1.2ghz and used in the Galaxy Nexus, this device put out 6000 DMIPS just like the Galaxy S2. It was also the flagship phone to introduce Android 4.0.

Few words about integrated video chipsets:
Tegra 3 is Cortex A9, so the 2.5 DMIPS per clock cycle is correct. However, Tegra 2 was a scaled down Cortex A9, so while the DMIPS numbers were the same, NEON support was removed as well as a few other things. Tegra 3 should be as fast as or slightly faster than Tegra 2 clock for clock, depending on the operation.

A lot of people have harped on me for criticizing the Tegra 3, as if I’m against quad-core on a phone. Truth is, Tegra 3 is simply under-powered for a quad-core. It’s the same Cortex A9 we saw in OMAP4, Exynos 4, and Apple A5 last year. This year we’ll see OMAP5, Exynos 5, and Apple’s A6 (latter is likely) using dual-core Cortex A15s. That’s like comparing AMD’s 1.3ghz Phenom X4 (entry level) to Intel’s Core2Duos at 2.6ghz and above. Sorry, more cores is not > higher performing dual-cores. Tegra 3 will be first out the door because it needs to be. OMAP5, Exynos 5, and Apple A6 will kill it. Qualcomm’s Krait (Snapdragon S4) will also abuse it quite handily.

As for the GPU, Tegra 3 is using a new GeForce ULP. You’d think that, this being Nvidia and all, they’d have graphics locked down. However, one again they are a generation behind. Preliminary benchmarks on the Transformer Prime put the Tegra 3’s GPU performance between the Mali 400MP4 (Exynos) and the PowerVR SGX543MP2 (Apple A5). Given what’s coming down the pipe this year (PowerVR SGX544, MALI T-604, Adreno 225), this is a bit underwhelming.

As is typical, there will always be something better if you continue to wait. Tegra 3 is the first quad-core, but I’m not impressed. It’s a worthy upgrade if you’re still on the old single-core Snapdragon S1/S2, OMAP3, or Hummingbird chipsets. However, if you’re on a modern dual-core, either upgrade to the dual-core A15s that come out the second half of this year, or for those who like to upgrade every 2 years, wait for the quad-core A15s in 2013 (which includes Tegra 4).

As for Sensation vs. Galaxy S2 comparison, they are largely comparable. Snapdragon S3 uses the Scorpion MPCore, which puts out 2.1 DMIPS per clock cycle. So, a 1.5ghz Snapdragon S3 puts out 3,150 DMIPS per core, 6,300 total. Galaxy S2 is a dual-core Cortex A9 @ 1.2ghz. A9 puts out 2.5 DMIPS per clock cycle, so that’s 3,000 DMIPS per core, or 6,000 total. Snapdragon S3 is 5% faster.

Snapdragon S4 will utilize the new Krait MPCore which puts out 3.3 DMIPS per clock cycle. The first confirmed chipset from Qualcomm will be a dual-core @ 1.5ghz, which means 4,950 DMIPS per core or 9,900 total. Tegra 3, which is still A9-based, puts out 3,250 DMIPS per core or 13,000 total. However, you will never see a real-world application use 100% of each core. There are diminishing returns associated with multiple cores. Also, Krait can be clocked up to 2.5ghz in come configurations…

In terms of power usage, the Tegra 3 uses a low-powered companion core for standby and low=power operations. It’s on the same 40nm process as Tegra 2, so the companion core and load-sharing over the cores will give it a slight batter edge over Tegra 2. The other chipsets are either 32 or 28nm, giving them a huge leg up in battery life.

Core2Duo would smoke a Tegra 3. The one Nvidia used in their benchmark was an original Core2 from early 2006, not the modern ones we have today. Even then, that benchmark was rigged to favor Tegra 3 and it came to a near tie.

Tegra 3 is a relative beast and a harbinger of what is to come, but it will not be faster than Snapdragon S4, OMAP5, Exynos 5, or A6. The above are all using Krait (Qualcomm) or Cortex A15 (the others).
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