Does a Better CPU Lead to a Better Phone? 4 Big Mobile Processor Questions Answered

We’ve pretty much got the whole computer processing paradigm figured out, especially since Intel has made it much easier with its different i-series chips. But, in the mobile world, there’s still a ton of mystery surrounding the processing power of phones and tablets. First off, there are many different types of chips out there for these small devices. Nvidia has its Tegra series, Qualcomm has its Snapdragon processors, and ARM makes the CPUs these are all based on, also known as the Cortex series. How are we to distinguish between each? And is the mobile processor similar to the PC’s CPU? Or are we looking at a whole new beast? We will answer these questions, and dive a little further into the realm of processor architectures and app development.

From a raw material perspective, CPUs are virtually all made of the same materials. Silicon has enabled us to create ever-smaller components that pack bigger punches. But if we learned anything from desktop computers, it’s that the performance from an AMD processor differs from that of an Intel processor. Mobile CPUs operate in quite the same manner. Even though most of them are literally children of the ARM family, you’d be mistaken to say that they’re all the same.

In many instances, a high-end dual-core processor can perform better than a low-end quad-core chip. It all depends on the architecture that’s etched into the silicon. ARM has a chart on this, which I’ll show you below:

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Processors based on Cortex architecture have some improvements that make them at least somewhat superior.

Performance on mobile devices does not entirely depend on the CPU. While the CPU serves a very high purpose on the device, it still has to wait for other hardware to respond. If your RAM or storage is cheaply-made and doesn’t have what it takes to catch up to the CPU, you’re in for a nasty surprise. On phone and tablet specification sheets, you’ll rarely see how fast the other hardware is. They always use the CPU as a selling point, which is at the very least a bit of an annoyance for those who would like to see exactly what it is that they’re buying.

The biggest drags on mobile CPUs are attached storage, internal storage, and random access memory (RAM). That’s pretty much the rest of the phone. After purchasing a phone, the only thing you have control over is attached storage (such as microSD cards). Be sure to get Class 10 microSD cards to make sure you don’t bog down the phone. Other than that, all you can do to see the merits of your potential purchase is to view or read reviews on the product.

Just like on your PC, not all mobile applications were developed to run on more than one core. Multitasking may be enhanced by more cores, but you’ll notice the difference only on apps designed to run in these environments. Apps like Facebook, Twitter, Kindle, and Financius won’t see significant upticks in speed.

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Your YouTube app and games will probably see relief with more cores to play around with. So, frankly, you’ll only really see improvements with multimedia and gaming apps. Nothing else seems to need a high amount of multitasking.

It depends. Some processors can shut off some of their cores when they’re not being used. The Tegra 3 is a good example of this. When a processor uses all of its cores to process data all of the time, it will siphon significant amounts of power, negatively impacting battery life.

The further you dive into the mobile processing world, the more you realize that the rules governing this world are quite similar to those governing PC processors. Clock speed and cores don’t compose everything. There’s much more to look at, and reading a little bit of material on each processor will unlock a wealth of knowledge that could prove its superiority to other models that try to sell themselves to you. And to answer the question, a better CPU might not translate to better smartphone performance. There are other factors that can determine the smartphone’s performances as well.

If you have a question regarding a mobile processor, post a comment and you will find an answer!

Image credit: SETTING A NEW STANDARD IN TABLETS and Tegra 4 – Chip Shot