Feb 21 AT 10:59 AM Taylor Wimberly 39 Comments

Quad-core Snapdragon S4 still on track for Q4, but dual-core model has plenty of power


Next week at Mobile World Congress we will see the debut of several Android devices that feature next-generation mobile processors. Companies like NVIDIA, Samsung, Texas Instruments, and Qualcomm will show off their latest silicon, and each one will tell us why their processor is the best.

Just like I wrote last year around this time, it is too early to tell which companies’ next-generation offering might be the fastest, but I don’t think it really matters at this point. From what I was shown at CES, all the next-generation of multi-core processors will offer similar experiences, features, and performance.

Today Anand Shimpi and Brian Klug of Anandtech posted some benchmark scores for the upcoming dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 (MSM8960). I’m glad these guys were able to benchmark the Snapdragon S4, since a surprising majority of geeks have been ignoring this dual-core processor simply because it wasn’t quad-core.

As we reported back in October when we visited Qualcomm, the Snapdragon S4 features Qualcomm’s custom Krait CPU architecture.  This CPU core is different than the reference ARM Cortex-A15 core that will appear in upcoming parts, but it still supports the latest ARM instruction set architecture and should offer comparable performance.

Snapdragon S4 vs the current competition in Qualcomm's Vellamo benchmark.

So when Anandtech benchmarked the Snapdragon S4 against a bunch of current-generation processors based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 core, we shouldn’t be surprised that it outperformed them easily.

What I did find interesting is that each competitors part will have its own small advantages. Intel’s Medfield processor will be slightly faster in Javascript performance and NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 will be faster in graphics performance.

And of course the industry moves so fast that these benchmarks will look vastly different in a couple of months. When Texas Instruments releases their 1.8 GHz OMAP4470, they could take the lead in graphics performance. And then a few months after that Samsung will release their Exynos 5250 which should outperform everything else. After that we will have quad-core Snapdragon S4s, OMAP5, and probably Tegra 4.

Yes, I know it’s difficult to keep up. No matter how much you research this stuff it will continue to change at break-neck speeds.

But for the immediate future, as in Android smartphones shipping this quarter, NVIDIA’s quad-core Tegra 3 will generate the most hype and design wins. It’s still based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 CPU core, but it has four of them (actually five) and the OEMs seem to be obsessed with “quad-core”, just like consumers.

A perfect example of this is HTC’s new smartphone lineup. They have two devices about to be announced, One X and One S, that feature NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 respectively. Even though Snapdragon could offer faster overall performance, HTC chose NVIDIA to power their flagship device the One X.

So why did HTC go with NVIDIA over Qualcomm in their top smartphone? Maybe it was the faster graphics performance, “quad-core” branding, or even NVIDIA’s Tegra Zone, but we don’t have the answer yet.

Hopefully at Mobile World Congress the picture will become more clear, because I haven’t seen many reasons for any consumer to be loyal to any one mobile processor company yet.

Source: Anandtech

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • http://htcsource.com Nick Gray

    I know Tegra 3 phones are going to be the most talked about devices at WMC, but I’m planning on getting an HTC phone with an S4 chip. Qualcomm’s SoC is much more advanced than what NVIDIA currently offers and reduction in power consumption would give new handsets longer battery life.

    • Moosa Mahsoom

      Htc went for tegra 3 probably because tegra 3 has a market value. For example….grade 9 er who knows s4 is better than tegra but, my friends cant.seem to understand the architecture concept.

      • http://theinternet-allofit.blogspot.com Jorge Branco

        I’d be surprised if there are many people who understand the architecture concept. Let alone on grade 9

    • Jeff Pan

      Nvidia people seems to be better at PR than Qualcomm.

      • http://htcsource.com Nick Gray

        True, but that’s mainly because NVIDIA has always been a consumer facing company since most of their original products were add-ons for computers. Qualcomm has never sold a product directly to consumers and has always focused on their OEM partnerships to help push its brand.

      • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

        Agreed, but Qualcomm is learning. A year ago they did virtually zero consumer marketing.

    • Good_Ole_Pinocchio

      I think the only thing that matters when it comes to battery life is beefier batteries, like with Moto. And as for waiting for a S4 you may not end up getting a highend phone from HTC because they seem to be going all out for Tegra3 are this point.

  • jonathan3579

    Qualcomm is always so slow to the market. Remember when the S3 debuted? People were impressed with how they performed at the time. I will hold all my reservations until it actually makes it to retail availability.

    • Dags -

      The S3 was a different case.They were already putting all their R&D into Krait but needed to compete in the dual-core segment so slapped some Scorpions together on a die. And not very well either – their aSMP implementation sucked. They were always looking forward to the real multi-core game which is Krait vs A15 and this time they will be first to market.

      • John

        Pretty sure nvidia will beat them to market with A15 as well!

  • http://www.jaxidian.org/update/ jaxidian

    It’s simply amazing the rate of progress we’re seeing in these CPUs, GPUs, and such. It’ll be interesting to see when the progress starts slowing down like it has in desktop CPUs. I wonder if we’ll stop at quad cores or if we’ll just keep pushing it beyond that. Clearly, over time we will go beyond that but there’s a difference between evolutionary change and revolutionary change. We’re still at a point where every ~6 months there’s a revolutionary change but I bet soon we’ll start slowing down and sticking to evolutionary changes.

    • alberto pierret

      desktop cpus arent stopping either btw look at moors law, people are speculating that cpus will get better for about 20-30 more years until u can only get transistors to transfer 2 atoms and eventually 1 at a time which will at then we will have quantum comp.

      look up transcendent man and the singularity =] ull be suprised if i told u that if ur young and dont expect to die of old age in those 20-30 years u can exect to live for ever ;)

      • RRR

        the dumbest post of a&m or
        the youngest poster.

        transistor does not transfer atoms. if u mean will consists out of 2 and then 1 atom then by physics transistor ultimately must contain at least 3 lolol

        how old r u kid?

        • Nate

          Person is obviously talking about the news from a few weeks ago where they made a one atom wide wire that was able to transfer electrical signals without a loss in transfer strength.

          People speculate that we will continue the drop from 28nm until we reach atom level scaling. As of now, that would exorbitantly expensive, but who knows what the future will bring.

          Level of innovation in chip manufacturing amongst all the players right now is very impressive. Old boys like amd, Intel, and ti, and the “newer” ones like nvidia, qualcomm (not really new), etc.

        • RRR backwards

          You feel better? You are the loser at the end of the day..

  • Max.Steel

    Krait has 3.3 DMIPS/MHz, so if a dual Cortex A15 would run at the same frequency they would be fairly comparable I would imagine (obviously ignoring all other elements that could help performance on either of them). And if that’s the case, HTC will have an interesting problem with their new lineup. It would mean, if the rumours are correct, their new flagship One X model using Tegra3 AP33 chipset at 1,5GHz and a 4,7 inch 720p screen might be slower compared to the One S, sporting the Snapdragon S4 chipset and a 4,3 inch screen with qHD.

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      Yes it will be interesting to see how they market these two devices. The HTC One S will be slimmer, have integrated LTE, faster processing performance, and could offer longer battery life, while the One X will have the larger high-res display and faster graphics.

  • Derek

    I find it hard to believe the Rezound is so low down on the scale while, it has the MSM8660 chip that score 1318 and it scored only 882.

    • http://htcsource.com Nick Gray

      You have to remember that the Rezound has a 720p (922,000 pixels) display versus the WVGA (384,000 pixels) display on the MDP MSM8660. People are always asking for higher resolution displays on the phones, but there is a sacrifice in performance which comes with it.

    • metafor

      The Rezound has also scored far lower than other devices that use the same chip. Part of it is Sense.

      The Xiaomi Mi-One, which uses the same chip but with MIUI’s version of Android instead of HTC’s Sense, scores very close to the reference platform:


      Another aspect is that since the Rezound is an LTE device, they likely throttle the CPU far more in order to save on the battery.

  • rojo623

    Sheesh. This conversation is too smart for me.


  • slurms mckenzie

    good article . just like im saying theres no reason to get all excited just yet not everyone has released there silicon. wait til omap 5, s4, tegra 3, medfield, samsung all come out and then make ur decision

  • spazby

    future is very exciting….

  • boro09

    Growing up with a 600Mhz PC with 124MB RAM and watching futuristic movies I always wanted a super powerful handheld computer that could do anything. Well – the future is now and it’s AWESOME!

  • inviolable

    Is that Q4 current fiscal or no?

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      I meant quad-core S4 for retail Q4 devices. The chips are sampling now and could appear in devices sooner if Qualcomm pushes them.

  • Dheeraj

    I have no idea why people want a quad core Cortex-A9. It’s outdated and power hungry.
    Dual core A15 could do better than that with much lesser power consumption.

    We haven’t reached the next revolution yet.
    If Exynos 5450 will come by Q3 this year(hopefully), it will blow all the other chips out of water.
    Four Cortex-A15 cores with Mali T658 GPU( 10x the performance of Mali 400). Can’t wait to see the future.
    The only chip that could possibly compete with it will be another 28nm four core Cortex-A15 with PowerVR series 6 GPU. Who’s bringing that? ST-Erricson?
    The quad core S4 with Adreno 3xx could come close to it I guess, but definitely not better.

  • sunrise

    “So when Anandtech benchmarked the Snapdragon S4 against a bunch of current-generation processors based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 core, we shouldn’t be surprised that it outperformed them easily.”

    Most of those processors in the benchmark above are actually NOT cortex A9.

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      Yes they are. The MSM8660 and HTC Rezound are the exception because they use Snapdragon S3 which has the older Scorpion CPU core, which Qualcomm will say is comparable to A8/A9. Samsung, Texas Instruments, and NVIDIA all used Cortex-A9 CPU cores in their dual-core SoCs.

      • Anirudh

        But how does it matter if nVidia has nothing better to offer in the next 1 year? It means Tegra3 will be pitted against 8960 and Tegra3 will lose, whether someone likes it or not.

        As for Exynos 5 series, it definitely matters as it will be released this year. So the real competition is between these two. Tegra3 looks like DOA!

        • metafor

          It’s not really a competition either. Since Exynos will be used in Samsung devices only. And Samsung will generally prefer to use their own chips. So it really doesn’t matter which one performs better.

          It’s not like HTC, Sony or LG will be able to put an Exynos in their phones if it performs better. Nor is it likely Samsung will go with Snapdragon just because it wins some benchmarks.

        • Nate

          I believe the tegra 3 is currently shipping. And something currently shipping always beats future tech. At least until that tech is released.

          • metafor

            It isn’t in smartphones, which is what this will compete in. Tegra 3 is a pretty big win for tablets, though. That’s a given.

          • John

            Tegra 3 is a year old. Just wait a few more days and we will see what else lies around the corner for nvidia. MWC starts in less than a week!

  • cheeto

    All this stuff about the specs of this processor does not matter. I want to see how it performs first hand. Qualcom chips are known to provide a choppy experience and I know becuase I owned a couple of recent high end htc devices. People don’t want that, we want a smooth experience like the iphone or a exynos powered galaxy device. So specs on paper are full of Sh*t

    • Anirudh

      I would attribute most of the performance issues with OEM overlays (Sense, TouchWiz etc.).

  • Nathan D.

    Dam, you guys are making me think real hard if I should get a new phone before august before the new school year or wait until close to November or December for these awesome processors. but any ways S4 and tegra 3 are both beast by them selfs so you can’t go wrong either way.

  • Joe*D

    I’ve been looking at this in early thoughts between the tegra3 LG optimus 4x and the HTC one s with s4. I don’t want to be left out of tegra zone gaming, but the s4 phone looks like it may end up as a faster phone if HTC sense doesn’t choke it off in stock form. Opinions?

  • PAT K.

    I’m new to Android … considering switching from iPhone 4 to one of the Android handsets. I’m not sure if the battery on these faster smartphones are well worth the tradeoffs. Any comments?