Posted by: kenwbudd | January 6, 2011

Dual Core ARM Smartphones – What to expect?

Expect the market this year to segment itself between performance-minded tablets and smartphones powered by dual-core ARM chips based around the 1 GHz Cortex A9-MPCore, and less-expensive mass-market offerings running single-core versions of the A9.

Reviews so far are positive, though wholly anecdotal and unscientific. CrackBerry says the BlackBerry PlayBook “is seriously snappy, thanks to its dual core processor,” while Tech Radar calls the Atrix “lightning fast.”

How much faster will dual-core devices really be?
For reference, let’s go back to when dual-core CPUs first arrived on PCs half a decade ago, customers were disappointed to find out that two 3 GHz cores did not make their PCs twice as a fast as one with a single 3 GHz CPU. There were too many other factors; hard drive speed, broadband connection, applications not-optimized for more than one core. All these drag the CPU down.

There was a performance boost, but it was significantly less than 100% and depended on what you were doing. 1) Surfing the web while encoding video in the background produced a speed boost, 2) surfing the web while listening to music, less so 3) Booting Windows or printing or running Microsoft Office showed no real change in performance.

Initially, dual-core devices will enjoy an even smaller advantage over single-core ones.
1) Devices are generally much more ‘connected‘ than PCs, meaning more of the latency in the user experience is due to network delays than when using a PC.
2) Apart from listening to music while surfing the Web or reading e-mails, users don’t really multi-task on devices much today.
3) It took many years before programmers started to begin to understand how to optimize their applications for parallel systems like multi-core PCs. Even today, writing for parallel remains a black art, taken advantage only by those that really need it.
While OSes like Android and iOS are multi-threading capable, based on questions like this, mobile developers will likely undergo a similar learning curve.

4) Graphic-intensive games are embarrassingly parallel and thus can benefit hugely from the addition of more cores. However, most games popular on devices tend to be of the boredom-beating, casual Angry Birds variety, not the ultra-realistic shooters popular on PCs.

Will Dual core smartphones provide double the speed of processing? I am afraid not but it will provide a boost to some activities.

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