The two main contenders these days for third-party mobile applications processors are NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM). This year will mark a milestone in the pair's intensifying competition, as NVIDIA recently released its Tegra 4i chip that features integrated LTE, which had long been a Qualcomm advantage.

As far as the regular Tegra 4 goes, it seems that NVIDIA may be able to give Qualcomm a run for its money. Semiconductor analysts at Linley Group are finding that the Tegra 4 is indeed proving to be the fastest mobile ARM-based processor, living up to NVIDIA's marketing claims. The news comes after NVIDIA showed off benchmark data at Mobile World Congress last month.

However, there are some notable details in the fine print that are worth mentioning. The benchmarks assume that power constraints do not throttle core performance, and power efficiency has also been another department where Qualcomm has enjoyed considerable advantages in real-world performance.

The data showed the Tegra 4 easily outperforming Qualcomm's popular APQ8064, but that processor is a previous-generation chip found in many 2012 devices. The newer Snapdragon 800 series has yet to be released and should enter production around the same time as the Tegra 4, but Linley estimates that the chip's performance still won't stack up to the Tegra 4.

Analyst Kevin Krewell acknowledges that Qualcomm does still enjoy power efficiency advantages over NVIDIA, outperforming when a gadget isn't running at maximum power. Only at maximum performance and power does the Tegra 4 come out on top. Krewell more or less predicts that the current competitive landscape will continue, with Qualcomm leading in smartphones (where power efficiency matters more) while NVIDIA scores the tablet wins (where raw performance matters more).

Shortly after NVIDIA showed off its benchmarks, Qualcomm exec Raj Talluri wasn't afraid of the Tegra 4, saying the Snapdragon still "easily" beats it. Investors will see how it pans out this year as OEMs and consumers vote with their wallets.