A Guide to Mobile Processors
Focusing on application processors

Sixth Edition

Published August 2014

Authors: Linley Gwennap, Mike Demler and Loyd Case

Corporate License: $5,995

The Place for Cool Processors

The hottest market right now is for the coolest processors. That's right, low-power but speedy processors are needed for handheld gadgets, including smartphones, tablet computers, e-book readers, personal navigation devices (PND), and medical equipment. These processors can also be used in other low-power applications such as wearable computers, automotive in-dash systems, Internet of Things (IoT), and digital signage.

Mobile processors continue to innovate rapidly. The past year has seen the introduction of the first octacore processors, the first processors capable of UltraHD (4K) video, and the first with integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Competition has bloomed in the 4G market, with at least seven vendors now shipping or having announced smartphone processors with an integrated LTE baseband. The newest trend is 64-bit ARMv8 processors, which will soon begin shipping in phones from multiple vendors.

The biggest growth, however, is in low-cost smartphones using highly integrated devices that combine the application and baseband (cellular) processor and sometimes even the Wi-Fi combo onto a single chip. Leading vendors such as MediaTek and Qualcomm offer complete solutions that include processors, RF, power management, and even software. Low-cost tablets often use processors from Allwinner, Rockchip, and other Chinese suppliers.

"A Guide to Mobile Processors" covers application and integrated processors designed for handheld equipment. Companies covered include Qualcomm (SnapDragon), MediaTek, Intel (Atom), Nvidia (Tegra), Samsung (Exynos), Huawei/HiSilicon, Marvell (PXA), Texas Instruments (OMAP), Freescale (i.MX), Allwinner, and Rockchip.

Make Informed Decisions

As the leading vendor of technology analysis for mobile and wireless chips, The Linley Group has the expertise to deliver a comprehensive look at this rapidly changing market. Analyst Linley Gwennap, Mike Demler and Loyd Case use their extensive experience in the mobile market to deliver the technical and strategic information you need to make informed business decisions.

Whether you are looking for an innovative solution for your design, a vendor to partner with, or a rising company to invest in, this report will cut your research time and save you money. Get the inside scoop on this major market. Order “A Guide to Mobile Processors" today.

  • Engineers who need to select a processor for a mobile device
  • Marketing and engineering staff at companies that sell mobile processors or products that work with mobile processors
  • Technology professionals who want an introduction to mobile technology and mobile processors
  • Financial analysts who desire a detailed analysis and comparison of mobile-processor companies and their chances of success
  • Press and public relations professionals who need to get up to speed on this mobile products and technology

What's New in This Edition

"A Guide to Mobile Processors" has been extensively updated to cover the announcements made since the previous edition.

Here are some of the many additions you will find:

  • Qualcomm's high-end 64-bit Snapdragon 808 and 810 processors.
  • MediaTek's first 64-bit processors, the MT6732, MT6752, and MT6795.
  • Nvidia's quad-core Tegra K1 processor with Kepler graphics.
  • Intel's Merrifield and Moorefield and a preview of the integrated Sofia parts.
  • Rockchip's RK3288, the industry’s first production Cortex-A17 processor.
  • Qualcomm's new midrange parts, the 64-bit Snapdragon 610 and 615.
  • Marvell's first 64-bit processor with LTE integrated, the PXA1928.
  • Samsung's octa-core Exynos 5422, the heart of some Galaxy S5 smartphones.
  • Qualcomm's Snapdragon 410, which brings LTE to low-cost smartphones.
  • MediaTek's newest tablet processors, the MT8127 and MT8117.
  • Spreadtrum's SC6821, which enables smartphones selling for as little as $25.
  • GPU performance comparison for all processors using GfxBench.
  • Analysis of the effects of Broadcom exiting the market.
  • Updates on design wins, financials, strategies, and roadmaps for all vendors.
  • 2013 market share and market forecast for application processors.

Don't wait! Get your copy now to track the latest developments in this fast-paced market!

Mobile devices serve our increasing desire to access anyone and anything at anytime. Smartphones provide ubiquitous voice and Internet connectivity and useful apps. Tablet computers provide a bigger screen for interacting with mobile content.

These devices require an advanced processor that supports a sophisticated user interface and various applications. Many of these devices must decode various audio and video formats, displaying high-resolution images at smooth frame rates. To extend battery life, these functions must be performed at minimum power levels. The cost of the processor must be low as well: often below $10.

These processors, like the mobile devices they serve, are evolving rapidly. To enable faster web browsing, many of the newest processors provide as many as eight CPUs operating at up to 2.5GHz. Most can display and record high-definition (HD) video; some can handle 4K video content as well. To support console-like games, they include powerful 3D-graphics accelerators (GPUs).

We divide mobile processors into two types. Standalone application processors serve as the main CPU in a mobile device, running the operating system and application software; they accelerate multimedia tasks and connect to displays and cameras. Integrated smartphone processors combine the application processor and cellular baseband on a single chip.

The Linley Group estimates that 1.09 billion processors shipped into smartphones in 2013, a total that will jump 18% in 2014. In 2014, we expect 78% of all smartphones to use an integrated smartphone processor, as even high-end phones such as the Galaxy S5 are converting to this level of integration. Integrated processors reduce system size, power, and cost. Standalone application processors today mainly appear in tablets.

Excluding Apple’s in-house processors, a total of 381 million merchant application processors (APs) shipped in 2013. Despite growth in both smartphone and tablet shipments in 2014, we expect the trend toward integration in smartphones will reduce this number by 9% in 2014, with continued declines through 2017. A shift to low-end tablets will eat away at the average selling price (ASP), causing merchant AP revenue to peak at $4.6 billion in 2013 and decline thereafter.

Qualcomm is the leading mobile-processor vendor, with its integrated Snapdragon line powering more smartphones (41% in 2014) than any other processor. The company has benefited from the trend toward LTE, and it dominates high-end smartphones. By creating its own CPUs, GPUs, DSPs, and other components, it differentiates its processors and chipsets from those of competitors.

MediaTek is the leader in low-cost smartphones and is working its way up the price stack. The company was the industry’s first vendor to deploy heterogeneous multiprocessing (HMP), the first with dual-active SIMs, the first with eight Cortex-A7 cores on a chip, and the first to integrate connectivity at the low end. It has also become the leading supplier to the white-box tablet market.

Spreadtrum also targets low-cost smartphones, ranking third in overall unit shipments of mobile processors. Unlike MediaTek, the company continues to lag in technology, relying mainly on 40nm single- and dual-core processors. Now a Chinese state-owned enterprise, Spreadtrum may be able to invest more in product development.

After its Tegra 4i processor failed to gain traction, Nvidia has refocused its efforts on tablets and automotive. Its Tegra K1-64 is the industry’s first merchant 64-bit ARM processor for mobile devices, and the new chip offers industry-leading CPU and graphics performance by some metrics. Its new chips are helping the company regain lost ground in tablets.

Intel is spending nearly $200 million per quarter to subsidize sales of its x86-based processors into tablets, putting it on track to ship 40 million of these devices in 2014. The company’s smartphone hopes rest on a new integrated processor called Sofia, scheduled to ship in 4Q14.

Samsung was first to market with an eight-core Big.Little processor, the Exynos Octa. But this chip proved too power-hungry for standard smart-phones, allowing Qualcomm to win nearly all models of the Galaxy S5. Exynos now appears in most Samsung tablets, and a new 20nm model will help it win back some smartphone designs.

Chinese vendors Allwinner and Rockchip supply low-cost standalone application processors for tablets, mainly white-box and off-brand models. After building a solid business in 2013, these and other low-cost suppliers are losing share in 2014 to more-integrated processors from MediaTek and to Intel’s subsidy-fueled advances.

Broadcom became the most recent casualty among smartphone suppliers, shutting down its cellular business in mid-2014. Samsung was the biggest customer for the company’s low-cost processors; the smartphone maker has already switched most of those designs to Qualcomm. RDA Micro-electronics was also acquired by the Chinese government and will likely be merged into Spreadtrum.

Despite these exits, the application-processor market remains crowded; this report covers more than a dozen suppliers plus internal designs. Although an application processor can be easily assembled by licensing an ARM CPU and some multimedia accelerators, vendors are differentiating on the basis of CPU performance, GPU performance, video capabilities, solution size, power efficiency, and software support. This report examines announced products using these metrics to determine the best choices for each type of mobile device.

List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Executive Summary
1 Mobile Applications
Wireless Handsets
Types of Handsets
Other Mobile Devices
Tablet Computers
Electronic-Book Readers
Media Players
Navigation Devices
Automotive Applications
Fixed Devices
Streaming-Media Players
Digital Signage
2 Mobile Technologies
CPU Microarchitecture
Instruction Issue
Instruction Reordering
Dynamic Translation
Pipelining and Penalties
Security Standards
Multimedia Standards
Video Resolution and Frame Rates
Audio Codecs
Video Codecs
Digital-Rights Management
Graphics Standards
GPU-Compute Standards
Cellular Technologies
2G Technologies
3G Technologies
3.5G Technologies
4G Technologies
Standard Interfaces
Memory Cards
Audio Interfaces
Displays and Camera Sensors
Connectivity Technologies
3 Mobile Processors
What Is an Application Processor?
What Is Not an Application Processor
Common Characteristics
CPU Complex
Audio and Video Engines
Graphics Engine
Imaging Engine
Security Engine
Internal Memory
Memory Controllers
Memory Cards
LCD, Keypad, and Touchscreen Controllers
System Interfaces
Power Management
Mobile-System Design
Sample Designs
ARM Instruction Set
4 Market Size and Trends
Market Overview
Tablet Computers
Other Mobile Devices
Netbooks, Hybrids, and ARM-Based PCs
Market Size and Share
Processors for Smartphones
Mobile Processors
Standalone Application Processors
Market Trends and Forecast
Baseband-Integration Trend
Mobile-Processor Forecast
5 Mobile-Technology Trends
Mobile-System Design Trends
Wireless Charging
Faster Mobile DRAM
Voice-Recognition and Sensor Hubs
Screen Size and Resolution
Processor Design Trends
64-Bit Support
Heterogeneous Multicore CPUs
PC-Like Graphics
4K Video and High-Efficiency Codecs
Processors for Tablets
Wireless Connectivity
6 Intel
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Tablet Processors
Smartphone Processors
Internal Architecture
Silvermont CPU
CPU and Cache Subsystem
Graphics and Multimedia Subsystem
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
7 Marvell
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Internal Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
8 MediaTek
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Octal Smartphone Processors
Tablet Processors
Internal Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
9 Nvidia
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Tegra 4
Tegra K1
Internal Architecture
CPU Microarchitecture
Graphics Unit
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
10 Qualcomm
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Low-End and Midrange Processors
High-End Processors
Internal Architecture
Krait CPU
Cortex CPUs
Graphics and Multimedia
Cellular and Connectivity Functions
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
11 Spreadtrum
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Internal Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
12 Other Mobile Processors
Actions Semiconductor
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
RDA Microelectronics
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Texas Instruments
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Other Vendors
13 Comparing Mobile Processors
How to Read the Tables
Processors for Smartphones
Ultra-Low-Cost Smartphone Processors
Low-Cost Smartphone Processors
Midrange Smartphone Processors
High-End Smartphone Processors
Processors for Tablets
Low-Cost Tablet Processors
Midrange Tablet Processors
High-End Tablet Processors
Processors for Embedded
14 Conclusions
Market and Technology Directions
Device Trends
Chip Trends
Vendor Outlook
Other Vendors
Closing Thoughts
Midrange Tablet Processors
Appendix: Further Reading
Figure 1‑1. Handset-market segmentation in 2013.
Figure 2‑1. CPU pipelining examples.
Figure 3‑1. Block diagram of a generic mobile processor.
Figure 3-2. Video power-consumption comparison.
Figure 3-3. Standard hard-wired 3D pipeline.
Figure 3-4. Standard programmable 3D pipeline.
Figure 3-5. Standard image-processing pipeline.
Figure 3-6. Stacked-die and package-on-package techniques.
Figure 3-7. Block diagram of generic smartphone with application processor.
Figure 3-8. Block diagram of generic tablet computer.
Figure 4-1. Smartphone-vendor market share, 2013.
Figure 4-2. Tablet market share, 2013.
Figure 4-3. Unit market share for processors in smartphones, 2010–2014.
Figure 4-4. Unit market share for mobile processors, 2013–2014.
Figure 4-5. Unit market share for standalone AP chips, 2013–2014.
Figure 4-6. Merchant-AP unit forecast by end application, 2011–2018.
Figure 4-7. Mobile-processor shipments by type, 2011–2018.
Figure 4-8. Revenue and ASP for merchant standalone AP chips, 2011–2018.
Figure 5-1. Market share of 64-bit mobile processors, 2011–2018.
Figure 5-2. Average number of CPU cores in mobile processors, 2010–2018.
Figure 6-1. Block diagram of Intel Moorefield in a smartphone.
Figure 7-1. Block diagram of Marvell PXA1928 in a smartphone.
Figure 8-1. Block diagram of MediaTek MT6592 CPU cluster.
Figure 8-2. Block diagram of MediaTek MT6595 smartphone platform.
Figure 9-1. CPU-usage scenarios in Tegra K1 and Tegra 4.
Figure 9-2. Block diagram of 64-bit Tegra K1.
Figure 9-3. Block diagram of Chimera 2.0 ISP architecture.
Figure 9-4. Block diagram of Nvidia Tegra K1 in a connected tablet.
Figure 9-5. Nvidia Tegra roadmap.
Figure 10-1. Block diagram of Snapdragon 610 in a smartphone.
Figure 10-2. Block diagram of Snapdragon 810 in a smartphone.
Figure 11-1. Block diagram of Spreadtrum SC7715 smartphone processor.
Figure 11-2. Block diagram of Spreadtrum Shark reference design.
Figure 12-1. Die-size comparison of Apple A6 and A7.
Table 2‑1. Standard screen sizes.
Table 2‑2. Cellular technologies and data rates.
Table 3‑1. CPU performance metric.
Table 4‑1. Unit and revenue share for standalone AP chips, 2014 (forecast).
Table 6‑1. Key parameters for Intel Atom smartphone and tablet processors.
Table 7‑1. Key parameters for Marvell PXA integrated processors.
Table 8‑1. Key parameters for MediaTek octa-core smartphone processors.
Table 8‑2. Key parameters for MediaTek dual/quad smartphone processors.
Table 8‑3. Key parameters for selected MediaTek tablet processors.
Table 9‑1. Key parameters for Nvidia Tegra application processors.
Table 10‑1. Key parameters for selected Qualcomm low/mid processors.
Table 10‑2. Key parameters for selected Qualcomm high-end processors.
Table 11‑1. Key parameters for Spreadtrum dual- and quad-core processors.
Table 11‑2. Key parameters for selected Spreadtrum single-core processors.
Table 12‑1. Mobile-processor vendors and products.
Table 12‑2. Key parameters for Actions tablet processors.
Table 12‑3. Key parameters for Allwinner tablet processors.
Table 12‑4. Key parameters for Apple processors.
Table 12‑5. Key parameters for Freescale i.MX6 processors.
Table 12‑6. Key parameters for HiSilicon application processors.
Table 12‑7. Key parameters for Rockchip mobile processors.
Table 12‑8. Key parameters for selected Samsung Exynos 5 processors.
Table 12‑9. Key parameters for Texas Instruments OMAP4 processors.
Table 13‑1. Comparison of processors for ultra-low-cost smartphones.
Table 13‑2. Comparison of processors for low-cost smartphones.
Table 13‑3. Comparison of processors for midrange smartphones.
Table 13‑4. Comparison of processors for high-end smartphones.
Table 13‑5. Comparison of processors for low-cost tablets.
Table 13‑6. Comparison of processors for midrange tablets.
Table 13‑7. Comparison of processors for high-performance tablets.
Table 13‑8. Comparison of application processors for embedded uses.

Free Newsletter

Linley Newsletter
Analysis of new developments in microprocessors and other semiconductor products


Linley Spring Processor Conference 2022
Registration now open: April 20-21, 2022
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Santa Clara, CA
Linley Fall Processor Conference 2021
Held October 20-21, 2021
Proceedings available
Linley Spring Processor Conference 2021
April 19 - 23, 2021
Proceedings Available
More Events »