The Curious Case of Mobile Processor

Did you know that about 50% of India’s population has access to the internet? Not to mention India stands second in terms of active internet users in the world. You might be surprised to know that 10 years ago it was just 7.5%. These data were released in February 2020 and thanks to COVID-19 pandemic, by now the numbers would have increased exponentially.

In 2019, more than 73% of India’s internet traffic was coming from smartphones. Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. We use them to send text messages, set alarms, make video calls, take photos, make videos, listen to music, play games, watch movies, send emails, attend and conduct online classes, business meetings, measure heart rate, flashlight, remote controller, and the list goes on.

Oh, we also use them to make calls!

Smartphone, mobile phone, cell phone – whatever you want to call it, is more than a phone. It is practically a computer. Just like the brain controls all organs in human beings or any living beings for that matter, even computers and mobiles have something called a processor.

Whenever you look at a phone’s specification, you see words like Qualcomm, Snapdragon, MediaTek, clock speed, octa-core, followed by a combination of words and letters which make you realise that memorising your Aadhar number is easier.

Don’t close the window because these words go over your head. You don’t need to be a geek or a techie to understand these words. I’m here to help you out.

Just scroll down to know about them.

What is a Processor?

Before I dive into mobile processors, let me explain what processors are in general. A processor is the “brain” of a device. As the name suggests, it processes everything. It receives commands, processes and executes them. In simple words, it controls every action of the device, be it a computer, a smartphone, a tablet or any other gadget.

What is a Mobile Processor?

Now let me tell you what a mobile processor is. Mobile processors are also known as SoC (system-on-chip) and chipsets. A system on a chip is an integrated circuit (chip) that integrates most components of a computer or any electronic system. These components usually include a central processing unit (CPU), memory, input/output ports and secondary storage – all on a single microchip.

Mobile computing-based SoCs, in short, mobile processors are connected to peripheral devices such as Bluetooth, accelerometer, GPS, Cellular modem, WiFi modules, etc. They are not only found in your smartphones but also other devices like tablets, eReaders etc.

Difference between Mobile Processors and Computer Processors

You might be wondering if mobile processors and computer processors are the same. Yes and no. Yes, because their functionalities are the same. And no, because they differ in other parameters like size, power consumption etc.

As you know, the word ‘mobile’ indicates something that is portable. That is the same case in the mobile processor as well. Mobile processors are smaller in size compared to their computer counterparts. Mobile processors use lower voltages and are designed to run cooler than the computer processors. They have more “sleep modes” that enable you to turn off certain parts of the chip when not in use. 

Another important factor is speed. A mobile and computer processor with the same speed differ in their performance. That is because the performance also depends on the other hardware components like RAM, GPU(Graphics Processing Unit) etc.

Now let me try to explain what those terms like core, clock speed, RAM and others mean.

What is a Core?

A Core is an element found in a processor which reads and executes instructions. It is basically a small processing unit. A multi-core processor, as the name suggests is a processor with more than one core each of which acts as a core.

Confused?

Let’s say you are having a small party at home and you are going to have some guests over. Among the other preparations, the most important one is the food. Unless all of them like Maggi, you want your menu to have at least 10 varieties of food. 

Think of these 10 food items as your tasks and your kitchen as the main processor. Preparing all those items single-handedly would consume a lot of your time. Luckily,  a couple of your friends are helping you out. Think each one of these cooks as the cores. Just like all of you cooking simultaneously can finish preparation of all the food items, the cores in a multi-core processor work simultaneously to finish all the tasks.

Multi-cores give you a smooth lag-free experience. You can load apps quickly, take high-resolution photos, play videos and games smoothly and much more.

The current generation of mobile phones always come with multi-core processors. They are usually hexa-core or octa-core (6 or 8 cores). You might be thinking that more the number of cores, more is the phone’s performance speed. But you are partially right because a phone’s performance is not solely dependent on the number of cores.

What is the Clock Speed?

Just because your friends are helping you with the cooking, doesn’t mean all of them will work at the same speed. Some might be faster, some might be slower. The same thing happens with a multi-core processor. If a phone has an octa-core processor, four of them might have different clock speed compared to the other four.

By now you might have guessed that the clock speed is something whose value denotes the speed of the processor. You are not wrong. The clock speed denotes the number of cycles the processor or the core executes per second. Clock speed is measured in GHz(gigahertz). The hertz is the unit of frequency and is defined as one cycle per second. So, 1 GHz means the processor can perform 1 billion instructions in 1 second. 

To create a balance between power and efficiency, manufacturers come up with different clock speeds for the cores. For example, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865+ is an octa-core processor. The clock speeds are 3.1 GHz for the primary core, 2.42 GHz for 3 performance cores and 1.80 GHz for 4 efficiency cores. Think this something like the head cook and other assistants.

So don’t fall for the number of cores in a processor. You need to check out the clock speeds of the individual cores.

What is RAM?

Let’s come back to our kitchen analogy. All the ingredients you need are stored in your kitchen shelves and accessing them sometimes might slow you down. So what do you do? Lay out all the ingredients needed for your recipe on the kitchen platform for easy and quick access. This is what RAM does.

RAM stands for Random Access Memory. It stores the working data and is normally measured in terms of GB(gigabytes). Having a big, spacious platform helps you to keep more ingredients thus increasing your efficiency and speed in cooking. The same goes here too. The higher the RAM size, the better the performance.

Normally, RAM sizes range from 2GB to 16GB. Some very high-end phones may even have 32GB RAM. You find the same phone models with different RAM options. Higher the RAM higher is the cost.  

So depending on your needs go for higher RAM. For eg. If you are an avid gamer, you need at least 6GB RAM. Opt for higher RAM only if you need it because you don’t want to pay for something that you don’t need.

What is a GPU?

GPU stands for Graphical Processing Unit. GPU is a processor mainly dedicated to graphics processing operations such as playing high-quality videos, playing games, shooting high-quality photos and videos and others. When running such graphics-oriented apps, a GPU helps to lighten the processing load on the CPU. 

It is not just high-quality videos and games that need GPU. It also handles other graphics-related operations like displaying web pages, pictures and short videos on your social media apps. In short, a GPU handles all graphical and visual data on your phone.

Without a GPU, you won’t get a smooth and lag-free experience while using your phone even when you are not using any photos, videos or games. This is because a GPU is also responsible for the UI – User Interface. All those fancy or simple animations while navigating through your main screen, background wallpapers and others make use of GPU.

Types of Processors

Now that you know about the processors, I will talk about or write about the leading smartphone manufacturers and the leading processors they use.

Some brands like Apple, Samsung develop their own mobile processors. Some use leading processors like Snapdragon by Qualcomm, MediaTek in their smartphones. 

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon

When you irritate a dragon and it snaps, it emits processors instead of fire and hence the name snapdragon. LOL! Just kidding!!

Snapdragon is a suite of SoC (System on a Chip) semiconductor products for mobile devices manufactured by the company Qualcomm Technologies Inc. Snapdragon processors are not only found in your smartphones, but also in tablets, laptops, smartwatches, 2-in-1 PCs and other such smart devices.

Snapdragon processors usually include a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), a GPS (Global Positioning System), and a cellular modem all integrated into them. Before 2013, the processor series were named S1, S2 to S4. After 2013, the naming convention was changed to 200, 300 and so on up to 800 (with an exception of 500) as of now. 

The range somewhat indicates low to high-end. The 400 series processors are found in entry-level phones, the 600 in mid-range and the 800 in high-end or flagship phones. When I say Snapdragon 800 series, they are a family of processors with some random numbers like 800, 801, 810, 821, 835, 855 and so on with the latest being 888.

2020 12 18 at 19 12 11

Snapdragon processors are used by most of the smartphone brands out there. You can find them in Google’s Pixel and Nexus, Samsung’s Galaxy, OnePlus, LG, Xiaomi, Vivo, Nokia, Asus, Moto, Micromax, Oppo, HTC and others. 

For more details check this and this.

MediaTek

Now that you have slayed the dragon, you can move on to MediaTek. (Sorry. No animal joke this time).

MediaTek is a semiconductor company which manufactures processors. MediaTek is the second widely used processor among smartphones after Snapdragon. These are not only found in smartphones but also in tablets, smartwatches, smart TVs and others.

Just like Snapdragon, even MediaTek processors have CPU, GPU and other wireless cellular units integrated into them. The naming convention goes like MediaTek Helio X, A, P, G series, or the latest Dimensity series. 

dimensity 5g series

MediaTek is quite popular among the low-end and mid-range smartphones. MediaTek is a Taiwanese company and mostly found among Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, Huawei, Realme, Redmi, Oppo, Vivo and others. You can also find them in other brands like Samsung Galaxy, LG, Nokia, Moto, etc.

Apple processors

A for Apple

B for Bionic

C for….. Cat??? 

iPhones, iPods, iPads and other such iProducts (I totally made that up) from Apple Inc. design their own line of processors and are exclusively for Apple products. They are not only used in smartphones and other gadgets but also in Apple TVs. Observe that I said ‘designed’ and not ‘manufactured’. That’s because they are usually manufactured by Samsung.

Now let me talk about the naming ceremony. Sorry. I mean naming convention. Apple names their processors as A4, A5, A6 so on with the latest being A14. Since A11 there are known as A11 Bionic, A11X Bionic, A12 Bionic etc. Apple has other processor series such as S, T, W, H and M which are mostly used in other Apple devices but not iPhones.

Samsung’s Exynos

E for Exynos.

Exynos is a suite of SoCs developed and manufactured by Samsung Electronics. Until now, Exynos processors were used exclusively by Samsung smartphones but some brands like Motorola, Xiaomi, Oppo might have Exynos processors in them in the future.

Exynos 9810 main 1

Exynos processor series such as 7500, 7800, 9600, 800 are usually found in entry-level and mid-range Samsung phones. And Exynos 5400, 7400, 8800, 9800, 900 and the latest 1000 series processors are found in high-end and flagship smartphones. I know the naming convention is a bit confusing. Check out here for more details.

Other Processors

The above four are the most commonly used processors in smartphones these days. There are other processors like HiSilicon’s Kirin used in Huawei and Honor phones, OMAP (Open Multimedia Applications Platform) by Texas Instruments, Tegra by Nvidia and others.

I hope I was able to give you some basic ideas about what a processor means, their specifications and some of the manufacturing brands etc. Tell me in the comments below if this post helped you in any way. 

And I rest my case!!!

2 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Mobile Processor”

  1. Hey surabhi very nice info put across in a very simple way designed for people like me who is non technical to the core.Good job continue,??

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