In the past 12 months, the hardware running inside of smartphones and tablets has certainly evolved in a big way. The Transformer Prime, HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S3, LG Optimus 4X HD, and Huawei Ascend D Quad are all Android devices sporting quad core processors, and I’m sure we’ll see way more before the year ends. But the question remains, is having a dual core or quad core processor in a smartphone actually a good thing? Well according to Intel, the world's largest chip maker, having more than 1 core in an Android phone is not only a bad idea, but a harmful one. While I was initially very interested in reading about what they discovered, the lack of any factual information makes it very difficult for me to see how they could make this very bold statement.
Dual Core Introduction
Now before I give my opinion as to why I don’t agree with Intel, lets have a look at the facts. Android began supporting dual core devices with the release of Android Gingerbread .The world's first dual core phone was the LG Optimus 2X, which featured a Tegra 2 1Ghz processor, and after that, an army of dual core devices followed. Apple also began using multiple cores in their newest iPhone and iPad, and will most likely upgrade the processor again in the upcoming iPhone 5. In other words, dual core phones are nothing new. As of the end of 2011 and going into 2012, companies are slowing making the change of having quad core processors in their high end phones, and in the coming months, dual core phones might even begin to be considered as mid range devices. Fast forward to today, and lets have a look at how Intel feels about the matter.
According to Intel, when they conducted tests with Android devices running more than one processor on Ice Cream Sandwich, they determined that the multiple cores provided little to no benefit most of the time, and even determined that in some instances, the multiple cores can decrease performance. According to Intel’s Mike Bell, Android’s thread scheduler isn’t ready for processors with more than one core.
Mike goes on to report that there were times when a single core ran faster than a multicore processor when running on Android, but failed to comment on which processor they tested, which device, or how it was tested (hmmm.....).
Bell goes on to say:
“If you are in a non-power constrained case, I think multiple cores make a lot of sense because you can run the cores full out, you can actually heavily load them and/or if the operating system has a good thread scheduler. A lot of stuff we are dealing with, thread scheduling and thread affinity, isn’t there yet and on top of that, largely when the operating system goes to do a single task, a lot of other stuff stops. So as we move to multiple cores, we’re actually putting a lot of investment into software to fix the scheduler and fix the threading so if we do multi-core products it actually takes advantage of it.”
Now granted, it’s fair to say that Intel have a large degree of knowledge when it comes to processors, but when it comes to MOBILE computing, they are brand new to the game, and as of yet, not generating much consumer interest when it comes to their chips being inside smartphones. I will go out on a limb and say this: I agree that in everyday performance, 2 or 4 cores will provide a very minimal boost. If you saw the hands on review I did of the Galaxy S3, I stated that in everyday use, my dual core Galaxy Nexus was faster than the GS3. So if you’re looking for a performance boost in using your phone to perform common tasks, you’re better off going with a phone with more RAM (starting to emerge) vs a bigger processor. BUT, and it’s a big but...I personally wouldn’t buy a quad core device just in the hopes of seeing faster screen swiping, and that’s the point Intel is missing...
When More Cores Matter
APPS and GAMES. That’s right. For gaming and graphic intensive applications, my Tegra 3 powered Transformer Prime jumps leaps and bounds over my previous Tegra 2 powered Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Modern Combat 3 lagged pretty badly on my dual core devices, but runs without a hitch on my quad core tablet. So the “more cores are bad for Android and decreases performance” statement simply isn’t accurate. Apple, who I think it’s fair to say are engineering geniuses, also happen to use dual core chips in the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, and they do that due to the popularity of gaming on the iPhone and iPad (along with other applications that require more power). Ask anyone who games on their iPad, and they’ll tell you that they have a better experience on their dual core iPad 2.
I’m sorry to say this, but it seems that Intel is reaching a little too hard to promote their new mobile chipset. People care about apps, and THAT’s where multiple cores matter. Period. I would also assume that multitasking also sees gains due to multiple processors, but even if not, the fact that specific applications CAN make use of the multiple cores can’t be denied.
So yes, for day to day performance, don't expect multiple cores to provide a massive boost. Can Android improve on making better use of multiple cores? Certainly. Will they? I would be willing to bet they will. But to say that mutiple cores have only negative benefits on Android devices without providing any details whatsoever in regards to how they arrived at that conclusion simply doesn't make sense. So until Intel chooses to provide information on which device they tested, which processor, how they benchmarked it, and the other 99% of the details they left out in their “findings”, I would take what they have to say with a grain of salt.
Picture credits: www.androidguys.com