Snapdragon S4 Pro: Krait And Adreno 320, Benchmarked

According to Qualcomm, its S4 Pro will be the next big thing in mobile performance, powering a new generation of smartphones and tablets. We put the company's claim to the test. The result? We think the competition, especially Nvidia, should be worried.

Since the beginning of computing, true enthusiasts have wanted to know more about the underlying hardware in their machines. From the old Tandy 1000 with Intel's 8088 processor to modern tablets with ARM-based architectures, components under the hood matter, even if we only use them to enjoy the device itself.

Back in the '80s, standardization made it possible to start swapping parts in and out of an IBM-compatible PC. Although most subsystems were soldered in, we still remember adding serial mouse cards, modems, and "high-end" 20 MB hard drives.

Over time, we were delighted to get access to upgradeable processors (even on-board L2 cache modules), standardized memory formats, faster graphics interfaces, and a broad range of peripherals. It was truly a golden age for power users who knew exactly what they wanted to to spend and where to spend it for the best experience.

What's The Future of Mobile Gaming?

Check out our interview with Four Android And iOS Game Developers for an insider's look of how the software world will evolve, and why hardware plays such an important role.

That model lives on today in enthusiast desktops. However, as we push forward into an era of mobility, compact tablet and smartphone form factors prevent the flexibility typical of a gaming machine at home. When you buy a mobile device, your choices narrow to the capacity of non-volatile memory available for storing music, movies, and pictures.

We've moved backwards in a sense. In the interest of being portable, we're willing to give up the ability to play games at the same quality we're used to. And the smaller you go, the worse performance gets. Because these diminutive platforms are all highly integrated, there's not a darned thing an enthusiast can typically do to make his or her hardware run faster.

Here's the thing, though. Developers aren't just writing software for iOS or Android anymore. They're actually optimizing and targeting specific platforms now. Nvidia has, perhaps, seen the most success engaging with the software community and getting games enabled on its Tegra 3 SoC that simply won't run as well on other Android-based gadgets. That means you have to do your homework now more than ever. 

Despite the truly amazing things we've seen ISVs do for Tegra 3, Nvidia's share of the smartphone market was comparatively small in 2011 (it ranked sixth, according to Strategy Analytics). The top player was Qualcomm with its family of Snapdragon SoCs. Naturally, any move the company makes is going to have a profound impact on the mobile market moving forward.

S4 Pro MDPS4 Pro MDP

Qualcomm recently invited us to a benchmark workshop where we were offered an opportunity to go hands-on with its S4 Pro, available in two- and four-core configurations.

Shortly thereafter, we acquired an S4 Pro Mobile Development Platform of our own, allowing us to perform controlled comparisons against other tablets in our lab based on competing architectures. This one's data-heavy, so buckle up!

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  • shotgunz
    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.
  • mayankleoboy1
    No comparison with Samsung exynos4 ?
  • luciferano
    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.
  • Other Comments
  • blackmagnum
    Apple: Use this for the next iPad and all will be forgiven.
  • shotgunz
    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.
  • luciferano
    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.
  • mayankleoboy1
    No comparison with Samsung exynos4 ?
  • mayankleoboy1
    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.
  • esrever
    This just makes the tegra 3 look bad.
  • Anonymous
    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 ;)
  • Anonymous
    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.
  • Anonymous
    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.
  • mayne92
    Very nice review Andrew!
  • Memnarchon
    Why placing only the weakest version of Tegra 3 and not Tegra 3 T33 (ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity 700)??? Or both of them.
  • darkchazz
    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?
  • dgingeri
    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.
  • jaquith
    Nice article.

    You might want to fix (bold) the 'Aggregate Performance Per Core' chart; note the Plus & Pro numbers.
  • fulle
    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.
  • ddpruitt
    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
  • Bricktop
    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?
  • edlivian
    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.
  • hameem_1
    this is so much great tosee Toms's hardaware doing mobile gpu benchmarks
  • marcel17
    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 .