Chipsets are to smartphones what the brain is to humans.
Your smartphone’s chipset, also referred to as a processor, is the phone’s central hub.
It controls everything in your phone, from the camera to the music player, email program, and everything in between. The processor’s effectiveness directly affects your phone’s overall performance.
Everything you do goes right into the processor.The processor receives and implements every command, completing billions of calculations per second. It then converts these actions into visual changes you see on your screen.
How Does a Smartphone Processor Work?
Let’s you’re performing a task on your phone like viewing pictures in an app.
The chipset registers this action and stores it in your phone’s memory — a phase called “fetch.”
This action then moves to the second phase, known as decode, where it’s translated into a language that your phone can understand.
The instructions move to the “execute” phase, where the processor transmits them to the screen, allowing your pictures to open. The executed instructions are finally saved in your phone’s memory, in a phase called “save.”
Qualcomm and MediaTek are the two dominant chipset manufacturers with more than 50% of the smartphone processor market.
Qualcomm is known for its Snapdragon chipset series, while MediaTek makes Helios and Dimensity chips.
While Qualcomm is regarded as the top chipmaker, MediaTek is growing rapidly, eroding Qualcomm’s market share.
Will MediaTek overtake Qualcomm as the number one smartphone chips maker? All signs indicate that’s likely to happen, so it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out in the future.
In this post, we’ll compare smartphone chips from the two leading manufacturers side by side.
Before we talk about the chips, let’s start by understanding a few things first.
What Does a Chipset Contain?
For starters, smartphone chips use what’s called System-on-a-Chip (SoC).
What is SoC?
SoC is a complete processing system bottled up in a single package.
Unlike the standard single processor chip package, SoC contains several processing parts, modems, memory and other crucial components assembled as one chip attached to the circuit board.
Combining several components into a single chip saves power consumption, cost, and space.
Components Inside a Smartphone SoC
Some standard components found in a smartphone’s SoC include:
- Central Processing Unit (CPU) — The CPU is the SoC’s brain. It is involved in running most of the code for the Android operating systems and almost all apps.
- Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) — The GPU runs graphics-related operations like 2D or 3D gaming.
- Image Processing Processor (ISP) — Receives data from your smartphone’s camera and transforms it into video and images.
- Neural Processing Unit (NPU) — Speeds up machine learning (AI) tasks like voice recognition and is typically found in high-end phones.
- Digital Signal Processor (DSP) — Deals with complex mathematical operations. The DSP analyzes gyroscope sensor data and decompresses music files.
- Modems — Receives wireless signal and transforms into data understandable by your phone. Modems comprise components like 5G, 4G LTE, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.
- Video encoder/decoder — Converts video files and formats.
Why Do Companies Invest So Much On Chipsets?
Smartphone chip makers spend large amounts of money developing processors that can handle today’s user’s needs.
Below are some reasons companies have high budgets for smartphone chips:
Great Cameras Need Good Processors
Camera quality is one of the most important considerations people make these days before buying a smartphone.
Even though premium sensors, lenses, and hardware are crucial, powerful image processing capabilities are part of the equation.
High-end smartphone chipsets offer top-notch features like 3D filtering, block matching, real-time bokeh blur, and noise reduction.
Premium chipsets produce great-looking pictures. MediaTek’s Dimensity 9000, for instance, can capture an impressive 320-megapixel image.
4G/5G Modems for Faster Data
Modems enable you to access data across your carrier’s network. Different modems offer different data connection speeds and quality. The most powerful modems, for instance, boast download speeds of over 1Gbps.
While smartphones have had built-in 4G capabilities, 5G modems are now available as 5G technology continues to roll out.
Qualcomm processors come with powerful modems with mmWave 5G and sub-6GHz capabilities. Additionally, all 5G phones run on integrated modems with super-fast data speeds and enhanced power efficiency.
What’s more, with the growth of new markets like home automation devices, wearables, AI processing, AR and driverless cars, powerful chipsets are becoming more of a necessity.
Qualcomm VS Mediatek – Which One is Better?
We’ve already established there are two major smartphone chip makers — Qualcomm and MediaTek? How do chipsets from two manufacturers compare? Let’s take a look.
MediaTek processors use the standard but modified ARM CPU cores and a third-party GPU like Mali. On the other hand, Qualcomm runs on Adreno GPU on all of its Snapdragon processors and a modified ARM CPU.
Qualcomm Snapdragon boasts better performance in handling intensive tasks and gaming. MediaTek SoCs are good at multitasking. These chips deliver better GPU performance and overall battery optimizations.
With the Helio P series (P70 and P90) coming into the market, MediaTek processors now offer more robust performance and can handle rigorous tasks better.
MediaTek smartphone chips are relatively cheaper compared to Qualcomm. Essentially, this means that phones running on MediaTek chips are more affordable than their Qualcomm counterparts.
According to a recent IDC report, MediaTek accounts for 48.1% of the United States Android marketplace. Qualcomm has a 43.9% market share.
Globally, MediaTek had a 33% market share as of the last quarter of 2021. Qualcomm held a 30% market share.
If these statistics are anything to go by, MediaTek has a larger market share than Qualcomm.
Qualcomm Snapdragon has a remarkable clock speed of 2.84 billion calculations per second. Considering that it takes over 31 years to count a billion, that’s an incredible speed.
MediaTek chips can deliver peak speeds of 2.3 GHz for a superb, super-efficient performance.
The Qualcomm 865+ processor can clock 3.1GHz, making it one of the fastest processors on the market.
Head to head, Qualcomm and MediaTek chips offer reasonable speeds to handle the needs of most smartphone users. Power Consumption
MediaTek smartphone chips have a high-power consumption, resulting in short battery life. However, the manufacturer is improving its processor to be more energy efficient.
Qualcomm processors are more energy-efficient compared to MediaTek. They offer better optimization and power consumption. Still, new gaming-oriented chipsets like Snapdragon 730G tend to consume more power.
Qualcomm typically uses Hexagon digital signal processor (DSP) to handle machine learning operations.
The chip deals with tasks related to photography, audio, and connection. However, the manufacturer has recently shifted to the Tensor Accelerator chip to ramp up its AI performance.
MediaTek uses the Helio P60 to power AI operations in mid range smartphones. The chip gives MediaTek an advantage with functionalities like better facial recognition and smart scene recognition.
MediaTek and Snapdragon smartphone chips offer high processing power.
The difference between the two processors lies in battery consumption and efficiency.
So how do the two compare?
If you’re after a chip that can handle tasks such as gaming and deliver higher performance in a mid-range phone, then you’re better off with a MediaTek processor,
You can go with the Qualcomm Snapdragon if you’re in for a higher-end flagship.
One thing we can’t ignore, though, is that Qualcomm is losing ground to Qualcomm as the leading smartphone chip maker. At the pace MediaTek is catching, it might only be a matter of time before it overtakes Qualcomm.