ARM Cortex A8 vs QUALCOMM Snapdragon vs NVIDIA Tegra

I am extremely intrigued by these three modern microprocessors that are powering the new generation of mobile phones. I really wonder which one is stronger and faster? Which one sips the least electricity and which one is the cheaper one (from the manufacturer’s point of view)?

I wish someone can satisfy my curiosity on this.


1st (12/11/09) Tegra has not been getting much demand except from Microsoft’s Zune HD. Browsing and 3D gaming was very smooth on the Tegra chip. Not sure whether this is due to Zune’s Operating System and the programming, or because of the chip (it is hard to say). Battery life on Zune HD however is excellent; capable of lasting for a whole day without charging, with extreme entertainment usage. However, Tegra is based on ARM11 (dual-core), which is still a generation behind Cortex’s architecture. Sure it compensates with a dedicated GPU (but then so does Cortex). So what I may say is that Tegra specialises in energy-efficient entertainment usage (trounces the other video decoding sizes that Cortex & Snapdragon devices are able to do at the moment), which it does by providing 8 dedicated processors for the Zune HD. Again, this is only a general assumption and conclusion based on what has been written and said. I found media playing (HD quality files) excellent on the Zune HD with no lag and drop in any quality.

When comparing Snapdragon and Cortex A8, I have a feeling (based on watching the videos of various phones) that Snapdragon has an advantage (have a look here: However, I think this is dependent on the web browsing architecture. They are both made up from the same block of ARM architecture, except with some customisations here and there. The main areas of testing comes from video decoding an encoding (recording and playback), 3D gaming (how fast OpenGL ES 2.0 performs under them) and multi-tasking (which we cannot test on the iPhone 3GS, but on other devices like Motorola’s Droid).

So, how are we to settle this differences (to some degree)…

Pit Motorola Droid/Milestone using Android 2.0 against the coming HTC device with Snapdragon (on Android 2.0). Unfortunately with Tegra, the only thing it is on is Zune HD which makes it harder to benchmark against other devices with like platform (ceteris paribus concept).

I’ll update this rambling article when I come across more information.

2nd (14/11/09): I found this from Eurogamer’s prediction over the next Nintendo DS2 that is rumoured to be coming next year –

The current-generation Tegra, as found in the Zune HD, features two pixel shader units, two vertex shader units and two texture mapping units (TMUs) while running at a real-life speed of 130MHz (the 600 and 650MHz speeds are mostly marketing-speak associated with fill-rate). NVIDIA demos have shown the technology as being capable of running Quake III Arena at 800×480 at 35 frames per second with both anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing fully engaged.

That is pretty good and right up to Arm Cortex’s capabilities I think… considering iPhone 3GS does have a lower resolution than the 800X480 above.

3rd (21/12/2009): Finally,… we now have a new tablet that runs Tegra on Android! Android is seriously THE PLATFORM of choice for 2009! Too bad we will only see this tablet (ULTRA) in 2010. What this means is that, we can start comparing the performance of the processors using Motorola’s Droid (Cortex), against Google’s Nexus One (Snapdragon) versus ICD’s Ultra (Tegra) in 2010. Nexus One would be the device for Snapdragon since it is likely to be in its original clock of 1Ghz instead of Acer’s Liquid device that is underclocked at 700+Mhz.

(Image above is the Ultra tablet by ICD)

4th (9/1/2010): CES 2010 has unveiled a whole lot of new mobile processors. What is interesting is that the Tegra 2 has been announced. This is based off ARM’s Cortex A9, which basically makes the “OLD” Cortex A8 near to obsolete. The good news is that Nintendo’s next gen Handheld device (replacing DSlite and DSi, if the rumours are true) will be powered by Tegra 2. The bad news is that, we might not see many devices with Tegra, since many would leap straight to the next, which is a dual-core processor. Full specifications are here:

The other big announcement is the updated Snapdragon which will be released most likely in the second half of 2010; get this… Qualcomm Dual-Core Snapdragon! Both cores clocked at 1.5Ghz. This is really nuts, in some sense because Snapdragon has ONLY been released not more than 2 months ago (mostly on Windows Mobile platform). Well, there is no really bad news for us consumers, because this means the prices of devices with these top-end processors (at the moment) will come down significantly when the next gen processors are released commercially. Hold off on buying the Nexus One and Droid, iPhone 3GS, etc. especially if you are a geek for speed. The next level is really coming fast 🙂

Compal’s Android Tablet with Tegra 2

6/07/2010: Okay, up till now, the only tests that can be done involves ARM Cortex A8 (Droid by Motorola, and Liquid by Acer) going against Nexus One and HTC Desire. The fight has largely been won by Snapdragon. However, this is only true in terms of raw processing speed. Recently, Samsung has come out with their own customized System-on-Chip design which is based on the ARM Cortex A8, but with a different GPU (Graphical processing unit) and it bests Snapdragon with its GPU (Adreno). You can take a look at the fight from this video showing off a HTC Desire going against Samsung Galaxy S, running the insanely popular game, Quake 2. Sorry, but Tegra has only been released for two products only (no tablet has been released using Tegra 1. Those who are releasing have upgraded all to Tegra 2, which is based on the next generation Arm A9), the Zune HD and Kin Phones (now defunct)!


3 thoughts on “ARM Cortex A8 vs QUALCOMM Snapdragon vs NVIDIA Tegra

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « A World of Thoughts

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