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S4 Pro Puts Qualcomm Back In The Fight

Snapdragon S4 Pro: Krait And Adreno 320, Benchmarked
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Dell XPS 10: Qualcomm's S4 + Windows RTDell XPS 10: Qualcomm's S4 + Windows RT

Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro platform is backed by big improvements in CPU and graphics performance, arming the company with the numbers it needs to go up against the current heavy-hitters employing Cortex-A9-based SoCs.

As the technology world works, however, more competition is headed Qualcomm's way. Nvidia's next-generation Tegra and TI's OMAP 5430 are both expected soon. Both will employ Cortex-A15 cores and, we are certain, substantially better graphics performance.

Qualcomm faces a few challenges moving forward. The first is a lack of games able to showcase the strengths of its Adreno architecture. In comparison, Nvidia's storied history with ISVs has already proven quite fruitful for the company's mobile efforts. Today, there are several Tegra-optimized games (like RipTide and Shadowgun). Further, titles like Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II enjoy an early release on Tegra platforms compared to the rest of the Android ecosystem.

It'd be easy for PC enthusiasts to dismiss the value of titles written specifically for smartphones and tablets. However, they're very important to hardware vendors trying to demonstrate what a graphics processor can do. For example, Apple uses Epic's Infinity Blade series to evangelize what its iPads can do. As we all know, manufacturers need software to justify ever more powerful hardware.

Qualcomm's second obstacle is that S4 Pro-based devices may show up later to the party than the company would have liked. The APQ8064 in our mobile development platform is a very attractive SoC sporting the new Krait CPU architecture, Adreno 320 graphics, and Wi-Fi connectivity. But without an integrated cellular modem, the chip has to be complemented by another piece of silicon in smartphone designs. This almost certainly has ramifications for power consumption.

Snapdragon S4 Thermal Comparison and Butter Benchmark

Its MSM8960T is where we'll see copious integration translate to a better balance between performance and power (for several reasons). Phones based on the SoC still haven't landed, though. And it remains to be seen how much of a head-start Qualcomm might enjoy with its Snapdragon S4 Pro platform compared to upcoming solutions from Nvidia and TI. 

More near-term, we have no problem waiting for retail S4 Pro-based tablet or smartphone hardware, which is faster than anything else we've used in those segments. Based on the roadmaps we've seen, it'll be 2013 before Qualcomm is challenged. We only hope the company uses that time to court ISVs able to properly utilize its promising Adreno 320 graphics engine.

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Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    shotgunz , October 11, 2012 5:03 AM
    Naw, more like give foxconn workers better salary, do something good with mountain of money they have, stop patent trolling, stop silly war with google/samsung and stop lieing. Then maybe Apple will be forgiven.
  • 17 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , October 11, 2012 6:01 AM
    No comparison with Samsung exynos4 ?
  • 12 Hide
    darkchazz , October 11, 2012 9:59 AM
    Tegra 3 is complete overhyped trash. abysmal memory bandwidth and weak GPU performance with useless extra cores.
    Why isn't the exynos quad in the comparison?
Other Comments
  • 20 Hide
    shotgunz , October 11, 2012 5:03 AM
    Naw, more like give foxconn workers better salary, do something good with mountain of money they have, stop patent trolling, stop silly war with google/samsung and stop lieing. Then maybe Apple will be forgiven.
  • 12 Hide
    luciferano , October 11, 2012 5:33 AM
    shotgunzNaw, more like give foxconn workers better salary, do something good with mountain of money they have, stop patent trolling, stop silly war with google/samsung and stop lieing. Then maybe Apple will be forgiven.


    Well, it'd be a start. I wouldn't go nearly as far as all is forgiven.
  • 17 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , October 11, 2012 6:01 AM
    No comparison with Samsung exynos4 ?
  • 8 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , October 11, 2012 6:01 AM
    AFAIUI, the PowerVR GPU in ipad3 is more of a brute force architecture. "Just throw more transistors" is its mantra. So its good in current workloads.
    The Adreno320 is more refined and optimised arch. Trying to get the most performance from least silicon area. It is still being refined. Hence, it will do well in future applications.
  • 3 Hide
    esrever , October 11, 2012 6:30 AM
    This just makes the tegra 3 look bad.
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , October 11, 2012 7:47 AM
    Why the ST-ericsson 8500 isn't in this list either? too few phone out? Xperia S/P... looks it would rock some of concurrents.. omap..S3...
    Please be as exaustive as possible ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 11, 2012 7:58 AM
    Error in the chart on second page.
    The cortex A15 DMIPS/MHz should read above the A9. Around 3.5 DMIPS/MHz from the rumblings.
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , October 11, 2012 8:13 AM
    These krait numbers aren't very impressive if you normalize for clockspeeds.
    In fact, they seem to suggest only a very small improvement over A9, if any at all.
  • 0 Hide
    mayne92 , October 11, 2012 8:15 AM
    Very nice review Andrew!
  • 9 Hide
    Memnarchon , October 11, 2012 9:39 AM
    Why placing only the weakest version of Tegra 3 and not Tegra 3 T33 (ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity 700)??? Or both of them.
  • 12 Hide
    darkchazz , October 11, 2012 9:59 AM
    Tegra 3 is complete overhyped trash. abysmal memory bandwidth and weak GPU performance with useless extra cores.
    Why isn't the exynos quad in the comparison?
  • 3 Hide
    dgingeri , October 11, 2012 12:08 PM
    This is a pretty good article, but I have one problem with it: the Tegra 3 is probably not the best example for the Cortex-A9. It's hobbled with very low memory bandwidth. It could probably perform better (including the GPU) with a better memory interface. Nvidia made a major design mistake with that.
  • 0 Hide
    jaquith , October 11, 2012 2:05 PM
    Nice article.

    You might want to fix (bold) the 'Aggregate Performance Per Core' chart; note the Plus & Pro numbers.
  • 4 Hide
    fulle , October 11, 2012 2:54 PM
    mayankleoboy1AFAIUI, the PowerVR GPU in ipad3 is more of a brute force architecture. "Just throw more transistors" is its mantra. So its good in current workloads. The Adreno320 is more refined and optimised arch. Trying to get the most performance from least silicon area. It is still being refined. Hence, it will do well in future applications.


    No. PowerVR holds some very specific advantages over there competition... Such as shader-driven tile-based deferred rendering (TBDR) architecture.... and their GPUs are actually MORE efficient than their competition. Not less.

    It's still very impressive what Qualcomm's done... I'm just not thinking they'll dethrone PowerVR anytime soon as the mobile graphics performance leader.
  • -4 Hide
    ddpruitt , October 11, 2012 3:21 PM
    It's interesting that the S4 needs 1.5 Ghz to beat the Tegra. And that's a high end Snapdragon vs bottom of the line Tegra. I'd bet that at the same clock rate with a level playing field these two would trade blows. This tells me that the Snapdragon is still way behind Tegra. S4 isn't in any production hardware and Nvidia is going to release the next Tegra chips in a few months.

    When Tegra and Snapdragon devices are available at the same time I'd bet that Tegra will handily beat Snapdragon. I wouldn't say Qualcomm is back in the fight, I would say this is Qualcomm's last desperate attempt to stay relevent
  • 1 Hide
    Bricktop , October 11, 2012 5:27 PM
    Good Review. I'm curious as to how accurate your "aggregate" single core performance numbers are to a real single threaded benchmark. I'm not an expert, but I thought the memory controller and GPU were separate from the CPU Cores. Can you simply divide those benchmark numbers by 4 to get single core memory and multimedia performance?
  • 0 Hide
    edlivian , October 11, 2012 5:27 PM
    this soc shall be at the heart of my next phone.

    Google, please allow the next nexus to be powerful, and have expandable memory.

    Enough imitating apples cloud dreams, we want local storage!!!!
    64GB microsd card is $48 on pace to be $36 by next year.
  • 3 Hide
    hameem_1 , October 11, 2012 6:16 PM
    this is so much great tosee Toms's hardaware doing mobile gpu benchmarks
  • 2 Hide
    marcel17 , October 11, 2012 8:01 PM
    Now , let's wait and see until some phones/tablets come on the market with the S4Pro .
    BTW , why are the Exynos4 and the A6 missing from the review ? I think they are the most relevant competition to the S4 .
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