Meet all the fancy processors that power your phone

The plucky underdogs

On the last page, we covered the big players, including Nvidia’s Tegra 4, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800, and Intel. Those are the names we’ll be seeing attached to the majority of top-end, exciting phones and tablets released over the coming year. But they don’t have the market all to themselves. Other incoming devices may use alternative power sources. Here’s some of the lesser known chips you may come across this year.

HiSilicon K3V3

Here’s a name you may not recognize, but you’ll know its parent company. HiSilicon produces Huawei’s in-house processors such as the quad-core K3V2 processor (based on the ARM Cortex A9) used in the Ascend Mate and the Ascend P6. Its successor was expected to be another quad-core chip, but it’s now being suggested the K3V3 will have eight-cores, and be based on the same Big Little technology used in Samsung’s Exynos 5 Octa. Huawei CEO Richard Yu confirmed the company’s eight-core plans at CES, but never said it would be the K3V3 chip. When, and if, the K3V3 does arrive – in either eight-core or four-core form – it’s rumored to be inside the Huawei Ascend P7, the sequel to its super-slim Ascend P6.

MediaTek MT6592

MediaTek isn’t very well known in the U.S. or Europe, but its cheap, low-power MT6589 quad-core processor can be found in various smartphones sold in China. Following this success, it has moved onto developing an eight-core processor, named the MT6592. Again based on ARM’s Big Little technology, it’ll also be able to run all eight cores at the same time. A recent rumor has linked the MT6592 with a Sony smartphone/tablet hybrid codename Tianchi, possibly due for release in November.

Intel Atom Z2420 Lexington

Announced at CES 2013, the Z2420 Lexington is destined for modestly specced hardware. The chip has already been adopted by Acer, who popped it inside the Liquid C1, an Android 4.0 phone with a 4.3-inch screen and an 8-megapixel camera. Since then, it has shown up in the Asus Fonepad tablet.

HTC Desire 601Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 and 400

Unlike their more powerful sister chips, the Snapdragon 600 and 800, the Snapdragon 200 and 400 live in more basic devices. The dual-core Snapdragon 400 can run at 1.7GHz, has 4G connectivity, and an Adreno 305 graphics chip, while the Snapdragon 200 can reach 1.4GHz and has a basic Adreno 203 GPU (graphics processor).

Since their announcement, the Snapdragon 200 has been used in low-end phones such as the HTC Desire 500 and the Samsung Galaxy Win, while the Snapdragon 400 powers the HTC Desire 601 and the HTC First.

Broadcom BCM21664

After Broadcom licensed ARM’s processor architecture, it made sense for the company to make moves into the smartphone world, although it initially confirmed plans to only build a series of processors destined for set-top boxes and similar products. Sure enough, Samsung signed up with Broadcom to use the BCM21664 dual-core, 1GHz chip inside its high-selling Galaxy Ace 3, having given the firm a try with the Galaxy S2 Plus.

Get ready for 2014, when 64-bit chips will take on eight-core chips

As you can probably see from the information above, there are two technologies which are sure to headline more than a few new smartphones in 2014 and beyond: Eight-cores and 64-bit. Samsung has already talked about producing a 64-bit chip to rival Apple’s A7, and it’s rumored to first appear in next year’s Galaxy flagship phone, tentatively known as the Galaxy S5. As for eight-core processors, they’re on the rise, with Huawei and MediaTek both working on examples, and once production stabilizes, we should see them in more hardware released worldwide too.

It’s easy to get caught up in all this talk about bits and cores, but for now, don’t be disheartened that your phone “only” has quad-cores, as they provide more than enough power for our phones, and if we’re honest, so do the best top-end dual-core chips. 

Article first published 03-17-2013.

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