Snapdragon vs. MediaTek processors: A comparison

Snapdragon vs. MediaTek processors: A comparison

Snapdragon from the United States-based Qualcomm Incorporated and MediaTek from Taiwan-based MediaTek Inc. are two of the most common processors and chipsets used by Android device manufacturers. These two have dominated the Android market following the withdrawal of other third-party chipset providers such as Texas Instruments and Intel Corporation. Hence, they have been relentlessly compared by smartphones enthusiasts and discussed prominently in tech reviews.

The Similarities Between Snapdragon and MediaTek

To understand the difference between Snapdragon and MediaTek, it is important to take note of their similarities. For starters, both are designed and marketed by fabless semiconductor companies. What this means is that both Qualcomm and MediaTek do not own and operate their own silicon-wafer fabrication facilities. Instead, they are invovled in product development and simply outsource the fabrication of their chipsets to specialized manufacturers called semiconductor foundries.

Notable similarities between the two are that their respective chipsets are a system-on-chip or SoC and their processors or CPU cores are based on the ARM architecture. As a SoC, these chipsets are an integrated circuit that includes different components such as a central processing unit or CPU, graphics processing unit or GPU, and radio technologies for wireless communications.

Because their CPU cores are based on ARM architecture, both Snapdragon and MediaTek processors are based on reduced instruction set computer or RISK architecture that follows standardized and specified set of rules that dictate how the hardware works when a particular instruction is executed. Note that both Qualcomm and MediaTek have secured a license from Arm Holdings to use the ARM architecture.

The ARM architecture allows processors to operate at a higher speed by performing smaller number of types of instructions numbering to millions per second. To be specific, the reduced instruction set computing or RISK involves tripping out unnecessary instructions and optimizing pathways, thus resulting in better performance at lower power when compared to architectures based on complex instruction set computer or CISK.

The Difference Between Snapdragon and MediaTek

Despite some general similarities between Snapdragon and MediaTek processors and chipsets, they have more specific differences that determine their respective features, performances, applications, and market attractiveness. Take note of the following:

1. ARM Architecture Implementation

One notable difference between Snapdragon and MediaTek is their respective implementations of ARM architecture and the corresponding CPU or cores.

Note that Qualcomm designs its own brand of central processing units. These are the 64-bit processor Kryo core and the 32-bit Krait core. Both are either a custom or a semi-custom ARM-based CPUs tweaked for power consumption and performance, among others. Thus, Snapdragon processors feature a modified version of the ARM architecture.

On the other hand, MediaTek employs the standard ARM architecture for its processors. It does not modify the standards and specifications set under the ARM architecture to the same degree as Qualcomm. It is safe to say that unlike Snapdragon processors, MediaTek processors are generic ARM CPUs.

2. Adaptation of the Latest ARM Architecture

Remember that both Snapdragon and MediaTek use the same CPU based on ARM architecture although the former implements a high degree of customization or modification. It is important to note that the ARM architecture has regular iterations and versions.

Qualcomm uses the latest and best ARM iterations and versions in its Snapdragon processors whenever they are available. On the other hand, MediaTek has the tendency to use older ARM iterations and versions or legacy ARM. In other words, Qualcomm usually adopts new ARM standards at a faster pace than MediaTek, and their Snapdragon processors are generally faster than their MediaTek counterparts.

As a comparison, Qualcomm released the Snapdragon 435 based on Cortex-A53 in the second and fourth quarter of 2016 while MediaTek released the MediaTek MT6570S in the second quarter of 2018. Both are based on ARM Cortex-A53 and are used in mid-range devices. Although these two chipsets are counterparts, the original counterpart of Snapdragon 435 was the MediaTek MT6570 that was released in 2015 and based on the older ARM Cortex-A7.

3. The Graphics Processing Unit

Another difference between Snapdragon and MediaTek is their respective graphics processing units or GPUs. The former has more advantage over the latter because it has a more powerful GPU.

Qualcomm designs its own series of GPUs called the Adreno. It was initially developed under the Imageon brand of ATI Technologies that was later acquired by Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. or AMD in 2006. Qualcomm acquired Imageon from AMD in 2009 and renamed it Adreno.

On the other hand, most of the GPUs found in MediaTek chipsets are from the Mali brand of ARM Holdings. Hence, MediaTek does not have its own GPU technology.

Both GPU brands are very competitive on paper and in theory. However, benchmarks, as well as tech and user reviews have revealed that Adreno GPUs generally trump Mali GPUs. As an example, the Adreno 506 found in Snapdragon 526 has a graphics performance of 130 Gflops while the Mali T860 Mp2 found in MediaTek Helio P10 has a performance of 47 Gflops.

4. Machine Learning Capabilities

Both Qualcomm and MediaTek have featured machine learning capabilities on some of their chipsets. Qualcomm has its own Hexagon Digital Signal Processor or DSP for machine learning tasks while MediaTek has integrated artificial intelligence processing units or APUs

The Hexagon DSP from Qualcomm and the APU of MediaTek are capable of performing on-device machine learning. Essentially, these two are processing units integrated within the chipsets alongside the CPUs, GPUs, and other components.

However, the top-end Hexagon 685 DSP is available on to-end Snapdragon chipsets such as Snapdragon 845, Snapdragon 710, Snapdragon 670, and the Snapdragon 675. Meanwhile, MediaTek has introduced APUs on the mid-range Helio P60 chipset.

5. Applications and Market Appeal

Remember that both Snapdragon and MediaTek chipsets are the dominant chipsets in the entire smartphone markets. Of course, companies such as Samsung and Huawei have their own capabilities for designing and deploying their brands of processors and chipsets. Snapdragon and MediaTek remain popular among other manufacturers simply because they are marketed as third-party chipsets.

However, when comparing Snapdragon and MediaTek in terms of applications and market appeals, each has its unique characteristics. MediaTek has been widely used in entry-level to mid-range devices by new and established manufacturers. Hence, in terms of perception, MediaTek processors and chipsets are usually geared toward the entry-level and mid-range markets.

Note that MediaTek has also concentrated on designing and marketing processors and chipsets for the entry-level and mid-range markets while Qualcomm has focused more on designing and marketing Snapdragon processors for the mid-range to high-end markets. For entry-level to mid-range applications, Qualcomm has marketed its old Snapdragon chipsets and processors.