CPUCES is over, we've all had a weekend to wind down and digest it all, and for mobile hardware junkies there is a lot to talk about. We saw what the big three mobile CPU builders will have to offer in 2013, and it's impressive on every front.

We started with NVIDIA, who took everything good about their current model Tegra chips and made it all one better with the Tegra 4. A quad-core A15, 72-core GPU, and LTE soft modem right on the chip shows NVIDIA is as serious in the mobile-space as they are on the desktop. 

Not to be outdone (and they certainly weren't) Qualcomm announced a pair of "superchips" that should make our phones scream on benchmarks, as well as handle the newest tech like 802.11ac.

Finally, Samsung wrapped thing up with the 8-core Exynos 5 Octa. Using what's called big.LITTLE processing, Samsung thinks they can manage the blazing speed from the quad-core A15 side by using the battery-friendly quad-core A7 side for those times when you don't have the need for speed, much like NVIDIA's Tegra "4+1" design. It will be a tricky balance, and we're excited to see how well Samsung can pull it off.

Even if you're not a big processor nerd, this kind of advancement is important. The hardware is what will decide how much developers can throw in the software, and we can expect better applications to run on our phones and tablets. If you are a big processor nerd, you're loving this. Which will impress you the most -- NVIDIA's addition of LTE to their domination of mobile gaming, Qualcomm's screaming speeds and support for new tech, or Samsung's foray into the battery saving world of big.LITTLE processing?

We want to hear from everyone. Which vendor showed the most, and more importantly, showed what you're looking for in your next phone or tablet on the hardware side. Answer the poll in the sidebar to the right or after the break and let us know what you think.


Reader comments

This week's sidebar poll: Which chip maker impressed you most at CES 2013?


I was most impressed by Qualcomm's new chips - hands down. It's going to make phones viable laptop replacements in a hurry.

But as to which chip maker impressed me the most, NVIDIA takes that, but not with their chips.

Qualcomm 800 did since it's likely to perform exactly how they say it will. The S4/Pro is a testament to that. I got burned by NVIDIA with the Tegra 3 so I'm very cautious. Tegra 3 was simply atrocious. The thing that makes me like the Tegra 4 is the camera capabilities though. Samsung has an interesting chip but not sure how well it translates in real life performance.

ST-Ericsson also got my attention (as they have in the past) with their high performing chip and yet idles at a really low voltage. Broadcom also gets my attention as I'm curious on how well it performs.

Qualcomm for phones, i think async cores will work well on phones. Tegra for tablets. But as a galaxy 8.9 tab (tegra 2) owner i have been burned by nvidia before (damn rotation bug, no 720p support). Specs look nice, but im slow to forgive so ill hold on to my tab for now and maybe get on next gen.

Qualcomm, performance improvements are always welcome. The big.LITTLE stuff Samsung is trying is interesting, but I think only time will tell just how much it helps with battery life.

Nvidia, as time has taught with the Tegra 2/3, sells snake oil. I'm quite skeptical of their claims, especially when their demos are clearly rigged (ex. N10 on Chrome vs Tegra 4 on AOSP is hardly a fair fight when you consider how much faster AOSP is).

The demo wasn't "clearly rigged" - they were using a Nexus 10 with a dual core Cortex A15 Exynos processor (let me remind you that the Nexus 10 is a Nexus device, so it's software is AOSP with minor adjustments to account for hardware compatibility), while their demo unit was on AOSP (with the same adjustments to the software to support the hardware they were using) with a Tegra 4 quad-core Cortex A15 unit (most likely with 2GB RAM), and the rest of the specs were most likely similar to the Nexus 4.

Watch their video more carefully. They're obviously using different browsers. Chrome for Android does not have a reputation for being speedy.

If they wanted a fair comparison, they would have either put the AOSP browser on the Nexus, or Chrome on the Tegra.

exactly, I guarantee if nvidia ran that test now with the nexus 10 on chrome beta, it would have been faster than tegra 4

It was great to see these announcements at CES this year. I like what Qualcomm has come out with it will be great for the future of smartphones made by Htc especially. Meanwhile i feel Samsung has something special in it's Exynos 5 Octa the only question will be are they going to use the Mali T604,T658, or The PowerVR SGX 544MP3. Personally I want them to use the Mali T658 Gpu in the Exynos 5 Octa. Guess we will find out in the next 60days. Either way i feel CES was a success.

I think all of the SoC's were a nice surprise. But if you look further into it, the best GPU is the recently announced PowerVR G6630, that chip can do 1 TFLOPS. And the Nvidia GTX 680 can manage around 3.7 TFLOPS. In a chip as small as the G6630 is (and using only a single core architecture), that's probably the most impressive advancement in graphics technology that I've ever seen. And I can't wait for it to arrive in mobile devices.

Octa is just a marketing gimmick. People will flock to it because it's Samsung and they'll think they're getting 8-core performance... but in reality they'll get *slightly* better battery life and that's it (if that).

Also consider that after the Exynos 4 farce, most developers will not even bother trying to make custom ROMs for Exynos 5 devices. No one trusts Samsung to release source code any more.

I envision a new tegra powered tablet and a Samsung built, Qualcomm powered phone on my counter in the near future. Pretty much as it is today.


Qualcomm. The S4 Pro is an amazing chip and I can't wait to see what the 800 does. The Tegra pushed some impressive graphics but I wonder if the other chips could no how similar results if the games were optimized for the chip like games are Tegra optimized. big.LITTLE just didn't do much for me. Can't wait to see it in a phone though. At this point I feel like no matter which chip blew you away you're going to get a quality experience that has its own strengths. Can't wait to see what this year holds, especially in the tablet space.

I see that most people are going with Qualcomm because they've already proved that a heavily modified (and improved) version of the Cortex-A9 architecture can sort of keep its own against the Cortex-A15, which is an impressive job in itself. But I believe that Nvidia is going to fall behind Samsung and Qualcomm, just as they did with both Tegra 2/3. But I could be wrong, I'm only going on past experiences.

Ummm, have you looked at the Krait architecture? It resembles Cortex A15 and not A9. One thing that might kill ARM is that the Cortex A15 has a much deeper pipeline which means while it can hit higher clockspeeds, if there are any branch misprediction through any of the stages, the entire pipeline must be cleared and start over again. With a deep pipeline, it adds complexity.

The Krait has a shallower pipeline which is what you want. You can ask Intel about Netburst, they learned the dangers of a very deep pipeline with the Netburst architecture.

It's really not fair to compare A15 to NetBurst, there was a lot more wrong with NetBurst than just the pipeline.

Choosing a longer pipeline with higher clocks is one design decision of many. Intel's NetBurst was intended to hit silly high clocks of 8GHz later in its life, that never happened as clock speed didn't scale with process node shrinks as hoped. Intel's goal was never met, the gains they expected to see from process node shrinks were never realised. NetBurst failed.

ARM will have had a clock speed in mind when designing A15, unlike NetBurst, they've probably met it.

Anyway, 15 stage pipeline is nothing compared to the 31 stage of NetBurst!

Another angle, take a look at die sizes:

People expect Haswell to compete on power, it won't. Even 22nm Atom will struggle realistically.

Samsung Exynos 5 Octa + PowerVR SGX544MP3 GPU seems pretty interesting although their boring presentation almost killed my enthusiasm about it.. And the fact that PowerVR is always far ahead to its competitors when it comes to graphical performance (and benchmarks)so it's not impossible that Samsung Exynos 5 Octa might (again) beat the Tegra 4 chipset, but i don't know about Snapdragon 800 though, that thing looks beast with breath taking presentation unlike Samsung's!

So (imo) i think the order should be like this:

CPU: Snapdragon 800 >= Exynos 5 Octa > Tegra 4
GPU: PowerVR SGX544MP3 > Tegra 4 >= Adreno 330

Why all the hate for Nvidia? Project Shield could be really good if they price it right. Tegra 3's main fault (IMO) was its lack of LTE support. And seriously: a 72-core GPU? That will be great for games.

Nvidia has a reputation for cutting corners (ex. no Neon support in Tegra 2, single channel memory in Tegra 3) compared to the competition, and making up for it by bribing developers to put extra effects in their apps that only run on Nvidia SoCs, or even making them only run on Nvidia cpus. Which wouldn't be a problem if there were some genuine reason like extra instructions not present on the competition, but that's never been the case... these extra Nvidia effects can usually be enabled on other chipset vendors quite easily and often run better. Its a form of fragmentation for the sake of corporate greed, plain and simple.

Samsung???? Seriously??? Come off it, they just showed off the same flexible screens they have since CES 2011 and announced yet another chip for which they undoubtedly won't release source code for.

I chose Qualcomm because of their history with chips and their performance is top notch in the CPU and GPU. Most people probably chose Samsung because they heard 8-core when will they learn its not about the amount of cores.

Who cares? What you should care about is the user experience of the device. Chips are just a part of the implementation. If a device is as smooth and power-sipping as you like, who cares what chip is in it? Let the electrical engineers building the phones decide what chip meets the power requirements while achieving the experience demanded from the UX team.

This isn't like Intel vs AMD; unlike desktop computers, the vast majority of those using a smartphone (including the ubergeeks among us) will *never* get to choose between chip A and chip B in what would otherwise be the same phone.

I think you're missing the point. The SoC can still play a part in choosing a device, for ubergeeks - for example I wouldn't touch a tegra4 phone with a 7-foot pole, due to it being an over-heating power hog. Nor would I buy an Exynos device because custom ROMs will be much more problematic.

Sure other aspects of the phone are more important to most people, but you act like the chipset is irrelevant and it just isn't.

Definitely Qualcomm, always love what they bring to the market. Also looking forward to the samsung Exynos 5 octa. The tegra 4 will probably lag behind.

I chose Samsung. The one area I think still lacking in mobile tech is battery life and any company willing to focus on that no matter how limited has my vote

I'm leaning more toward Tegra4 ONLY IF they addressed the memory bandwidth of Tegra 3.

Personally, I can really do without Octa in favor of a bigger GPU.

The Snapdragons also need a faster GPU

I will choose Qualcomm. I own 2 Snapdragon S3 devices (EVO 3D and HP Touchpad). Even being that the S3 is over a year and a half old now, it still runs current mobile software just fine. I can't wait till my upgrade this year and i can go phone shopping! i will most likely be holding off for a phone with the latest and greatest Qualcomm chip... BTW where is TI in the battle? has the OMAP line been given a run for its money?