A Guide to Mobile Hardware: Chipsets, SoCs and More

Mobile chipsets, SoCs and individual components are often emphasized in advertising, but how much do you really know about them?

When you’re investing in any device, you should want to know as much as you can about the hardware inside. While desktop hardware is easy to look into, mobile hardware is notoriously difficult for outside eyes to understand without advanced technical knowledge.

The goal of this article is to allow you to look at the specifications for a mobile phone and make an informed buying decision, without needing to spend hours upon hours researching the necessary information.

Before we begin, we’re going to clear up some technobabble for you:

  • Chipset – Essentially the “motherboard” within a mobile device, as it provides all the connections necessary for components to interact with one another.
  • SoC – Short for “System on Chip”. An SoC comprises the CPU, chipset and other core components of a system, all on a single chip, hence the name.
  • CPU – Central Processing Unit. One of the most powerful components in any device.
  • GPU – Graphics Processing Unit. Also a powerful component but deals exclusively with pretty graphics.
  • RAM – Random Access Memory. Works alongside the CPU and GPU to manage multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • ARM – Short for “Advanced RISC Machine”. Refers to a company but also the processor architecture they use. Most mobile CPUs are based on ARM, while most desktop/laptop GPUs are based on x86 (from Intel or AMD).
  • x86 and x64 – A CPU architecture. x86 comprises 32-bit systems, and x86-64 comprises 64-bit systems. These architectures are used most commonly by Intel and AMD in desktop and laptop processors; however, Intel is starting to use x86 architecture in mobile phones.

Now, we can really get started.

There’s some confusion going around about this, so let’s go ahead and straighten it out: chipsets and SoCs are not the same thing. A chipset in a mobile device acts as its motherboard, while an SoC is a combination of most (if not all) of a device’s components, including the chipset.


In desktop computers, chipsets exist on the motherboard to enable special features, such as overclocking, voltage control and other functions. Chipsets on mobile devices can also enable features but primarily work to integrate hardware components, like a proper motherboard.


SoCs, however, are mostly exclusive to smartphones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices where space needs to be saved and hardware doesn’t need to be upgraded. An SoC essentially focuses on putting the entire system, or its most important components, on a single chip.


While other manufacturers may exist, the most major manufacturers of mobile chipsets and SoCs are the following:

  • Qualcomm is behind the “Snapdragon” series of SoCs, and they are arguably the most prominent SoCs used in recent years, being featured in most of the latest high-end devices.
  • Texas Instruments makes the “OMAP” SoC series, but these see less usage than SoCs from other manufacturers.
  • Apple creates their own “Apple Ax” series, with the latest being Apple A9X. The A9X is a 64-bit ARM-based processor used in the 2015 iPad Pro.
  • Samsung is behind the “Exynos” series of SoCs, which see most of their usage inside alternate versions of Samsung Galaxy phones, as well as Samsung’s Chromebooks.
  • Nvidia is behind the “Tegra” series, which are gaming-focused SoCs taking advantage of similar technologies as Nvidia’s desktop GPUs. Nvidia uses these Tegra chips mostly in their own niche devices, but other manufacturers occasionally get in on the action, too.
  • Intel is behind the “Atom” series of processors which are x86 and used mostly in low-end laptops and tablets.

As far as “best” goes, there aren’t really best manufacturers for chipsets. In fact, there aren’t even necessarily best chipsets, since what’s currently “the best” won’t be for long (due to a high amount of competition in this area), and there are other considerations in a system besides just the chipset and SoC.


Unfortunately, directly comparing the hardware in mobile phones can be difficult if they come from different manufacturers. One company’s 1GHz dual-core processor may be stronger than another’s 2GHz tri-core, for instance.

Where you can compare numbers directly is between products in the same series. For instance, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 can be directly compared to its successor, the Snapdragon 800. In general, the higher the number in the same series the higher the performance.

To compare performance across manufacturers and devices, though, you’re best off using platforms like Passmark, Futuremark and other trustworthy benchmarking sites.

Sifting through hardware can be exceedingly complex, but I hope I’ve given you the information necessary to follow the news in this field and make informed buying decisions.

Is there anything you’d like to add? Or is there anything you feel like we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Source: Market Share Graph

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