Difference Between Apple A5 and Qualcomm Snapdragon S3

Apple A5 vs Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 | Snapdragon S3 vs Apple A5 Processors Speed, Performance | APQ8060, MSM8260, MSM8660, PowerVR SGX543MP2, Adreno 220 GPU

This article compares two recent System-on-Chips (SoC), Apple A5 and Qualcomm Snapdragon S3, designed for consumer electronics by Apple and Qualcomm respectively. In a Layperson’s term, a SoC is a computer on a single IC (Integrated Circuit, aka chip). Technically, a SoC is an IC that integrates typical components on a computer (such as microprocessor, memory, input/output) and other systems that cater electronic and radio functionalities. Both Apple A5 and Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 are Multiprocessor System-on-Chip (MPSoC), where the design uses multiprocessor architecture for exploiting the available computing power. While Apple released A5 in March 2011 with its iPad2, Qualcomm Snapdragon released in late 2010.

Typically, the major components of a SoC are its CPU (Central Processing Unit) and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). The CPUs in both Apple A5 and Qualcomm Snapdragon are based on ARM’s (Advanced RICS – Reduced Instruction Set Computer – Machine, developed by ARM Holdings) v7 ISA (Instruction Set Architecture, the one that is used as the starting place of designing a processor). Both the MPSoCs are fabricated in TSMC’s (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) 45nm technology.

Apple A5

A5 was first marketed in March 2011, when Apple released its latest tablet, iPad2. Later Apple’s recent iPhone clone, iPhone 4S was released equipped with Apple A5. Apple A5 was designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung on behalf of Apple. As opposed to its predecessor Apple A4, A5 has dual cores in its both CPU and GPU. Therefore, technically Apple A5 is not just a SoC, but also an MPSoC (Multi Processor System on Chip). A5’s dual core CPU is based on ARM Cotex-A9 processor (that uses the same ARM v7 ISA that is used by Apple A4), and its dual core GPU is based on PowerVR SGX543MP2 graphics processor. A5’s CPU is typically clocked at 1GHz (the clocking uses frequency scaling; therefore, the clock speed can change from 800MHz to 1GHz, based on the load, targeting power saving), and its GPU is clocked at 200MHz. A5 has both L1 (instruction and data) and L2 cache memories. A5 comes with a 512MB DDR2 memory package that is typically clocked at 533MHz.

Snapdragon S3

Qualcomm has released a large number of Snapdragon SoCs over the last three years under different trade names such as MSM7230, MSM7660 etc.; however,  in August 2011, they have decided to put all of them under four simple names, namely Snapdragon S1, S2, S3 and S4, so that users can better understand their products and avoid confusion. Therefore, large lists of SoCs originally named individually are put together into the above groups and the naming of the groups is based on, the bigger the number, the more features in the SoC (for example, Snapdragon S3 will have more advanced features than Snapdragon S2). The popular SoCs that are categorized under Snapdragon S3 are as follows: 8X60 [APQ8060, MSM8260, MSM8660].

Although Scorpion uses ARM’s v7 ISA (instruction set architecture, the one that is used as the starting place of designing a processor), they do not use ARM’s CPU design such as the popular ARM Cotex series for their processor design. The first Snapdragon S3 MPSoC was released in the third quarter of 2010. The first mobile device to use this MPSoC was HTC’s Sensation mobile phone, which was released in May 2011. Later, many other handheld devices used Snapdragon S3 as their choice of MPSoC and some of them are HP Touchpad, HTC Vivid, HTC EVO 3D, ASUS Eee Pad MeMO, and HTC Puccini Tablet.

The S3 deploys a Scorpion dual core CPU (that uses ARM’s v7 ISA) and an Adreno 220 GPU on the chip. The CPUs deployed are usually clocked between 1.2GHz and 1.5GHz. Snapdragon S3 has both L1 cache (instruction and data) and L2 cache hierarchies, and it allows packaging up to 2GB low power DDR2 memory modules.

A comparison between Apple A5 and Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 is tabulated below.


Apple A5

Qualcomm Snapdragon S3

Release Date

March 2011

Q3 2010




First Device


HTC Sensation

Other Devices

iPhone 4S

HP Touchpad, HTC Vivid, HTC EVO 3D, ASUS Eee Pad MeMO, and HTC Puccini Tablet


ARM v7 (32bit)

ARM v7 (32bit)


ARM Cotex A9 (Dual Core)

Qualcomm Scorpion (Dual Core)

CPU’s Clock Speed

1GHz (800MHz-1GHz)

1.2 GHz – 1.4GHz


PowerVR SGX543MP2 (dual core)

Qualcomm AdrenoTM 220

GPU’s Clock Speed


Not Available

CPU/GPU Technology

TSMC’s 45nm

TSMC’s 45nm

L1 Cache

32kB instruction, 32kB data

(for each CPU core)

No Details Available

L2 Cache


(shared among all CPU cores)

Not Details Available


512MB Low Power DDR2, clocked at 533MHz

Up to 2GB DDR2


In summary, both Apple A5 and Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 have comparable features. Both of them use similar CPU architecture [same ISA, different hardware architecture] (with a faster clocking frequency in Snapdragon S3). Apple A5 uses a better GPU with a faster graphics processing support mainly due to its dual core PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU. It was proved that the GPU used in Apple A5 outperforms the one used in Snapdragon S3.