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Why is the CPU on my phone slower than that of a desktop computer

The processors that are built into smartphones are getting faster and faster, but will they ever reach the speeds of those processors that are built into computers?


Smartphones in your pocket are powerful. Much more powerful than some servers used many years ago, and more powerful than some modern computers today. Interestingly, your phone today has more processing power than NASA’s computer that sent astronauts to the moon and back in 1969.

But the microprocessors used in today’s smartphones still lag behind those built into computers. The question that arises is – is it the same technology? We will try to answer this question below, writes A Magazine

Smartphone Processors Vs. desktop processors

Most processors have similar names and numbers, but most often come in two variants: ” mobile ” and ” desktop “.

Mobile microprocessors use more or less similar terminology as desktop processors, but there are some differences. Furthermore, “mobile” is not a good term because it covers a range of multiple devices. Mobile processors are built into tablets, IoT devices, laptops, and many others.

Different manufacturers of these chips have products for different devices and their offer is quite diverse. They develop chips for various devices and hardware. Interestingly, two major players in this field – Intel and AMD – do not have a large share in the field of mobile processors. Both companies have sold their divisions that produce microprocessors for mobile phones to companies such as Qualcomm, Apple, Samsung …

But, there are currently some rumors that AMD could produce certain chips for 5G devices (smartphones), but we will not write about that now because there is still no confirmation.

What you need to know is that processors are divided, as we said, into mobile and those for desktops.

Differences in mobile and desktop processors

There are three main differences between mobile and desktop processors. That is:

CPU architecture
“Instruction set”
Power and warm-up

1) CPU architecture

When we talk about a desktop CPU, then we are referring to an individual hardware component. The CPU, or processor, is the “brain” of a computer. When we talk about the processor in a cell phone, then we are talking about the SoC architecture. SoC stands for System on a Chip. What’s the difference then?

In essence, an SoC is a single chip that comes in multiple sizes and contains a CPU, GPU (graphics processor, which is a separate component in desktop computers), a radio, various sensors, a security system, and device-specific capabilities. Mobile processor manufacturers “pack” a bunch of components into a single chip that is then used in a mobile phone. For example, below is a picture of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Exynos 990 SoC :

These components require a lot of power to work well, but more on that later. Just keep in mind that these components on desktops are “separated”. At least to some extent.

Conclusion: A desktop CPU is a single component, a mobile CPU contains a bunch of components in a single chip (SoC).

2) Instruction set: ARM vs. X86

Another aspect you need to consider is the overall design of the CPU. Intel licenses its x86 processor design to other companies such as AMD and VIA Technologies. AMD is a very famous company, and have you ever heard of VIA?

Probably not, but it doesn’t matter. Intel’s CPU design dominates the desktop processor market. That same design is made for high-end computing power and can process millions of instructions in a split second. And since your desktop computer “pulls” electricity directly from the mains, the CPU can run at maximum power, which results in good results, ie the computer runs very fast. It also heats up a lot!

Smartphones are different. ARM design is one used by companies such as Qualcomm and Apple. These processors balance between power and battery consumption and are therefore slower compared to desktop processors.

ARM SoC CPUs use the so-called. RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing). The RISC instruction set is smaller, requires less energy to process data, and is fast to execute, thus freeing up resources and allowing the smartphone to be in an “idle” state and not consume battery power.

Intel x86 CPUs use the so-called CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing). The CISC instruction set is much more complex, takes longer to execute, and can process a lot of data at once. It also consumes more energy to execute.

3) Power and warm-up

If you look at the marketing side of this whole story, you’ll see that processors are often advertised as X-core processors with a certain clock speed. The more the better, right? Not always. That is, it may be true for desktop processors, but the SoC chips used in smartphones are not viewed that way. Nor can they be directly compared to the mentioned desktop CPUs. What is important on smartphones is the power and how much they heat up.

When the processor is running, it generates heat. And a lot of heat. This is not a problem for desktop computers because they have space, so you can install fans that will “pull” that heat out of the case, and coolers that will take the heat from the CPU to themselves. Your smartphone does not have this feature. You know how much the phones can heat up when you hold them in your hand and use them for more than 5 or 10 minutes. They know how to get hot, especially in the summer.

Mobile CPU manufacturers know this and therefore limit the power of the processor and how fast it can run. This is the only way to reduce warming. For example – Intel i7 CPU produces about 65 watts of heat, while ARM-based SoC chips produce 3 watts. That’s about 22 times less!

Theoretically, ARM processors could work like desktop processors, but they would heat up so much that your phone, and especially the battery, could not withstand it. At best, the phone would stop working. At worst – the battery explodes and can injure you quite badly.

Will mobile processors ever catch up with desktop processors?

The answer is – yes. That has already happened. The latest generation of smartphones uses processors such as Qualcomm 865+ which was introduced at IFA 2020. It is a powerful 8-core processor with a maximum clock speed of 2.4 GHz. Samsung’s latest models use an Exynos 1000 processor that also has 8 cores clocked at 2.73 GHz.

These are processors that can be measured with specific processors used for desktop computers. But as we have written – they must be limited. First, they need to save battery power, unlike a computer that is plugged in. They have to work with reduced power to keep from heating up, while on desktop computers this is not a limiting factor at all. Consequently, the processor speeds on mobile phones will never be as high as on desktop computers due to limiting factors that do not allow it. But in general – if it weren’t for that, those processors would stand “side by side”. So don’t compare those processors because that’s not possible. At least not yet.

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Stories under this byline are written/directed/published by the staff and editorial board of MegaloPreneur magazine. Some of the MegaloPreneur journalists may also be involved in investigating and finding facts.

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