Smartphone processor head-to-head: Intel Atom vs Nvidia Tegra 3 vs Samsung Exynos vs Qualcomm Snapdragon

Reviews 12 Dec, 2012

We run the four processors through a battery of benchmarks to find out which one can claim to be the best overall. Find out how the first x86-based Atom SoC fared against well-established ARM rivals.

Verdict: 
Based on the results, Samsung has the performance advantage at this time, and anyone who has used a flagship device such as a Galaxy S3 will be able to see this. Intel impressed on this test, and we expect its dual-core Atom parts to continue boosting performance. Similarly, Nvidia is likely to perform better next time around when the Tegra 4 has been unleashed. Although the Snapdragon was disappointing, it powers the cheapest high-end device to date in the form of Nexus 4, and will still provide good value for money.

Most users take the processor inside their phone for granted, which is a shame because since the advent of the smartphone, the semiconductor industry has stepped up its game.

Those tiny pieces of silicon enable you to take photos, capture video, play music, browse websites, render console-quality 3D graphics and of course make the occasional phone call.

Typically based on the instruction set from Cambridge-based chip design house ARM, the processors offer levels of performance undreamed of in distant days of the Nokia 3210.

But even with ARM doing the central design, there is plenty of variation in features and performance between manufacturers. Of course Intel's entrance into the mobile processor market has also shaken things up - with the firm offering a high-performance system-on-chip products.

The chip makers are keen to let customers know that devices packing their respective processors are the best. In typically fashion, Intel has started plastering its “Intel Inside” logo on devices, starting with the Motorola Razr i. Qualcomm has taken out full-page adverts in newspapers and magazines touting the performance of its Snapdragon processor family. Nvidia and Samsung also take every opportunity to talk up the benefits of their chips - claiming each is the fastest and most efficient.

But which of these processors is really the best? It's not an easy question to answer: each implementation, even of the same fundamental ARM design is radically different when it comes to the number of cores, the clock speed, and the graphics components used.

We pit four top of the range chips head-to-head to find out which can claim to be the best.

The Contenders

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