There are a number of factors that determine how good smartphone processors are. This easy-to-understand guide helps you better understand how processors in mobile phones work.

How smartphone processors work: all about chips, chipsets, cores, speed, and Power

In the world of computing – desktop, laptop, mobile and others – a processor can be likened to the engine of the device in question. Smartphone processors work to run the devices. The more powerful the processor of your smartphone or PC, generally speaking, the faster it runs and the heavier the tasks it can carry out.


There are a number of factors that determine how good smartphone processors are. For example, beyond how powerful and fast they are, there is the question of what features they support e.g. camera specs, network standards, artificial intelligence (AI), and more.

smartphone processors work


Smartphone Processors And Cores

You must have heard of single-core, dual-core and others. If you have ever wondered how they work, we bring you the breakdown.

A single-core processor has only one actual central processing unit (CPU). This unit is called a core.


A dual-core processor is a single computing component (a “chip”) with two independent actual central processing units (“cores”).

A quad-core processor is a single computing component with four independent actual central processing units (“cores”).

An octa-core processor is a single computing component with eight independent actual central processing units (“cores”).

There are also smartphones with 6 core processors = hexa-core. If/when they arrive, 10 cores = deca-core.

How Do Smartphone Processors Work?

64-bit processor

The more cores a processor has, the more efficient it runs. This is because with multiple cores, different tasks on your PC or phone are distributed. Multiple core processors can help cut down on battery consumption and also help your phone or PC run smoother and handle heavier tasks.

Multiple cores help the most when you need to do more things at the same time on your phone or PC. This is called multitasking. In multiple core processors, each core is independent of the other. During light usage, only one core may run, and then when you switch to heavier usage, more cores kick in to help handle the load.

Doubling processor cores does not produce twice the speed. A quad-core processor won’t run your phone twice as fast as a dual-core processor. Multiple cores do not mean total speeds in multiples of the speed rating. For example, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor does not run at a top speed of 2.4GHz. It means that both cores run at 1.2GHz each for handling different tasks.


Apart from number of cores, though, smartphone processors are also rated by speed e.g. 1.3GHz, 1.7GHz, 2.0GHz. The higher the figure, the faster the core and the processor. A 1.7GHz single-core processor is more powerful and faster than a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, but the latter will provide better performance in usage scenarios involving running multiple tasks at the same time because it has more cores available to handle those tasks more efficiently.

What are the processors used in mobile phones?

There are a number of chip makers behind the different smartphone processors in use around the world today. The major ones are:

  1. Qualcomm. This company makes Snapdragon chipsets, which are some of the most widely used smartphone processors around today.
  2. Mediatek. Mediatek is a budget chipset maker and its processors are seen in budget smartphones around the world, especially in those that are made in China. Mediatek makes MKT, Helio, and Dimensity brands of smartphone processors.
  3. Apple: An American brand, Apple makes the Bionic chip used in its iPhones and iPads.
  4. EXYNOS is a processor maker owned by Samsung Mobile and so is found mostly in Samsung smartphones.
  5. Hisilicon. This is a subsidiary of Huawei, and its chipsets are found mostly in Huawei phones.
  6. Unisoc (formerly Spreadtrum) is a Chinese chipset manufacturer for mobile phones. Its low-cost processors are found mostly in entry-level smartphones and feature phones.

Which processor is best for mobile in 2020? What is the fastest processor for a smartphone in 2020?

Apple Bionic A13

Apple’s Bionic A13 is the undisputed king of mobile processors in 2020. Results from multiple benchmark services and tests show that the A13 Bionic scores the highest points. It is followed by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865, which is trailed by HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G. The Bionic A13 is in use in the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, and the iPhone SE 2020.

Which is more important RAM or processor in mobile?

Lastly, it is important that I touch on a fairly common question: whether RAM or processor is the more important feature in a smartphone. The answer is that RAM and the processor handle different tasks. A smartphone processor determines how powerful and fast a phone operates, while RAM determines how fast and how smooth apps are launched or switched.


So, you need a combination of a smartphone processor and RAM for the best performance in a phone. The fastest smartphone processors paired with poor RAM will still result in a less than satisfactory experience on a smartphone. This is why high-end smartphones have the fastest processors and the biggest amount of RAM available.

You can read up our more detailed article about processors and RAM for a clearer picture.


Smartphone processors dictate the capabilities of the device in many ways. They determine how capable the camera can be, whether the phone supports 3G, 4G, or 5G, and how much artificial intelligence (AI) functions the device has.

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Founder of MobilityArena. Yomi's journey in mobile started in 2001. Besides obsessing over mobile phones, he also started creating WAP sites (early mobile-friendly websites created with WML). He began writing about phones in 2004 and has been at it since then. He has owned over 200 devices, from Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems.

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Here cones my famous automotive analogy.

    the fact a car has eight cylinders does not mean it drinks twice the fuel or produces twice the power / torque of another car with four cylinders.

    Similarly, cores don’t tell even half the story, like pixel counts alone neither determines the quality of a SmartPhone screen, nor the quality of a camera.

    Processing speed is also determined by the RAM size, as well as the Operating system chargé d’affaires.

    Those two factors may be even more important than the raw number of cores

  2. One thing to note is that ARM based processors are mostly less powerful than their x86/64 counterparts in terms of performance, I often hear people compare their smart phone processor speed ARM (GHz) with a desktop processor x86 (GHz) speed.

    One way to determine the difference is to run a performance benchmark test that works on both processor architecture.

  3. @Babangida, I wouldn’t know, but I think you could be wrong.

    A MegaHertz is a Megahertz.

    It’s like saying an articulated vehicle (trailer) moving at 40km/hr would be slower than a motorcycle cruising St the same speed…

    I do t think so.

  4. I guess I probably should have used the word computing power instead of performance.

    To be fair comparing a desktop CPU and a mobile CPU is wrong, both CPU’s were designed for different applications even if their CPU clock speeds are the same.

    The answer given by allquixotic over at superuser explains this better. He also gave a nice vehicle analogy

  5. Would have love to know how RAM comes to play in all these. Does for instance a 1.2GHz processor backed by a RAM of say 2Gb perform better than a 1.7GHz processor paired with 1GB of RAM?

  6. Dharn,

    It is difficult to measure the specifics, but from my experience with scores of gadgets, I’d take the device with 2GB RAM in your comparison, all other things being equal.

  7. Actually, an 8 cylinder car will drink twice the fuel of a 4 cylinder. This is because no 8 cylinder car is less than 4.4L while no 4 cylinder is higher than 2.6 or probably in that range. By default, a 4.8L V8 will drink twice the fuel of a 2.2L I4. No two way about it.
    I admit other factors may come into play though like the stability of the engines, the wear and tear, throttle and drive style but all things being equal…an 8 cylinder should almost drink twice the fuel of a 4. 🙂

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