We tested the latest phablet from Xiaomi, the Redmi Note (also known as the Hongmi Note in China), 5.5 inch Android device that runs the Octa-core MediaTek MT6592 processor, making head to head comparisons with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, the SoC of choice for most of today’s mainstream flagship devices. Benchmarks include Quadrant, AnTuTu, 3D Mark, Vellamo, Geekbench 3, Sunspider and Anomoly 2 Bench.
Late last year MediaTek announced the MT6592 system-on-chip processor, claiming it the world’s first heterogeneous computing SOC. As we move towards the middle of Q2 2014, the MT6592 has picked a number of design wins for the company with largely Shenzhen-based manufacturers in China; the list reads like a who-is-who of China’s biggest tech hub and includes Zopo, Coolpad, Gioneee, Goophone, Archos, THL and Tienhe. The group is joined by HTC, Lenovo and of course Xiaomi, proving the MediTek MT6592 to be a fairly popular choice in the affordable 5 to 6 inch device category.
Apples to Apples? Cores to Cores?
If we compare the benchmark scores (below) on face value, we can see that Qualcomm is way ahead of MediaTek with its Snapdragon 801 platform, at times knocking out scores two or three times that of the MT6592. Let’s be fairly cautious about how we interpret these figures however; take the example of Geekbench where a single threaded run sees MediaTek way off the pace scoring only 364 points compared to the HTC One at 949 points. If we look at the multi-threaded version of the benchmark we in fact see a much better showing from the MT6592 clocking up 2033 points compared to 2770 on the HTC.
This all makes me wonder if the heterogeneous architecture that MediaTek has developed is being exploited effectively by the app. How an application uses all cores available on a SoC depends a great deal on how the processor has been designed, and how well the software developers have been able to optimize code to maximize workloads for that specific processor design. MediaTek have a an approach which is probably best described by the company itself:
“… a Heterogeneous Computing (HC) architecture, distributing the workload to different kinds of processors and other specialized computing engines to optimize performance. These HC building blocks include the CPU, GPU, DSP, multiple connectivity engines, multiple multimedia engines, camera engines, display engines, navigation, and sensor cores.”
The idea of using specific building blocks that deal with specific tasks is not entirely new of course, being the basic concept behind GPU technology in PCs for decades. Like graphics processing, other tasks also benefit from having specific processors developed and optimized specifically with those tasks in mind. Previous generations in processor design saw a more brute force approach from the Central Processor Unit or CPU, which in more traditional designs would take responsibility for processing almost all tasks. MediaTek’s heterogeneous approach means using an array of various processors for each of the tasks mentioned above including the devices cameras, sensors, communications and media tasks.
How many of the benchmarks above benefit from the heterogeneous nature of the MediaTek architecture? Probably none. But does the MediaTek approach offer a really solid mobile user experience with great battery life? We are here to tell you it does. The traditional testing of one component (i.e. CPU cores) on a device as complex as a modern smartphone, is a less than perfect view of the devices true ‘performance’.
Today’s benchmarks do however prove that in raw number crunching performance, Qualcomm is ahead and has an awesome solution with the Snapdragon 801 chip. In terms of pricing the Qualcomm solution of course commands a higher premium, which is why we are seeing plenty of China’s manufacturing hub opting for Taiwan’s MediaTek ahead of other solutions from true silicon giants Qualcomm and even Intel.