All I want for Christmas is a dual-core superphone, but it doesn’t look like Santa is going to deliver one this year. Why am I so excited about this one hardware spec for my next Android device? To put it very simply, dual-core processors will raise the bar for performance and capabilities in mobile devices and they will become the new standard in 2011.
The dual-core Tegra 2 processor by NVIDIA is already shipping in tablets overseas (plus Sears) and it is expected to power the first wave of dual-core superphones and Honeycomb devices. Both the LG Star and the Motorola Olympus have been confirmed to feature the Tegra 2 processor and I expect we will see more products announced in early 2011.
So why should you want a dual-core processor? Read on after the jump for the top reasons why multi-core CPUs should be at the top of your wish list.
Desktop PCs transitioned to multi-core processor architectures five years ago for a reason. They offer higher performance and lower power consumption. Single-core CPUs found in mobile devices have started to top out in the performance per watt and multiple cores is the answer to that problem.
NVIDIA just published a whitepaper titled The Benefits of Multiple CPU Cores in Mobile Devices and it has some pretty compelling reasons to go with a dual-core processor in your next gadget purchase. The report is focused on their Tegra 2 SoC (System-On-a-Chip) architecture, but it is based on the ARM Cortex-A9 design so these benefits should also be available to similar A9 CPUs from Samsung, Texas Instruments, and Qualcomm.
None of these dual-core phones have hit the market yet so we have no way of telling which will perform the best, but NVIDIA seems to think pretty highly of their Tegra 2. They are describing it as “the world’s most advanced mobile processor” and released a bunch of benchmarks to back their claim up.
The five major points that NVIDIA is promoting for Tegra 2 include:
- Faster Web page load times
- Lower power consumption and higher performance per watt
- Higher quality game play experience for advanced console-style mobile games
- Highly responsive and smoother UIs (user interfaces)
- Faster multitasking
Yes please, I’ll take one of everything. Let’s break down their claims and see how the average Android geek will benefit from a dual-core processor.
Faster web page load times
This one seems pretty obvious. Each CPU core is capable of operating independently on different workloads so it splits up the tasks of rendering a web page. One core takes on the Active X and Java code while the second works on the Flash content and video.
I’ve been using Flash Player 10.1 for several months (first on my Nexus One and then a G2) and while I’m satisfied that it just works, the performance is a little sluggish. Videos load slow and the page scrolling is a little jumpy when a site has multiple Flash objects.
NVIDIA included several browser benchmarks that compare the Tegra 2 with previous single-core phones.
To further emphasize the speed of dual-core CPUs that support symmetrical multiprocessing, NVIDIA also benchmarked a dual-core Tegra 2 vs a Tegra 2 with only one core enabled. Their results show that the average web page loads almost 50% faster.
Verdict: Approved – We all browse the web from our phones and who doesn’t want faster load times? Sign me up.
Lower power consumption and higher performance per watt
Every time I write an article about dual-core processors in a mobile device someone cracks a joke about needing to carry around a really long extension cord. Some people think that a faster processor would automatically eat up more power, but it is actually the opposite.
NVIDIA does a nice job of dumbing this down a little, so I will quote their whitepaper:
The Tegra solution is more power efficient and delivers higher performance per watt than single core processors. In order to meet peak performance demands in a multitasking environment, a single core CPU not only runs at higher clock frequencies and voltages than a dual core CPU, but also takes longer periods of time to complete a given task.
NVIDIA Tegra employs SMP (Symmetrical Multiprocessing) technology to distribute and share task workloads across the two processing cores and thus each core is not fully loaded and does not have to run at peak capacity/speed. This enables the system level power management control logic to run the two cores at much lower operating frequency and voltage and thus achieve significant power savings.
For tasks that are highly parallel, NVIDIA Tegra is able to distribute the workload across the two CPU cores and complete the task much faster than a single core CPU solution. Thus the dual core CPU on NVIDIA Tegra would be able to complete a task quickly and enter into a low power state to conserve power, while a single core processor would have to be in an active high power state for longer periods of time to process the same task. For low intensity workloads that only require the processing power of a single core, the other core can be turned off, reducing power consumption to almost the same level as that of a single core CPU.
The whitepaper gets pretty technical, but NVIDIA’s example shows that dual-core processors can do the same work as a single-core while using 40% less power. We don’t know what the overall battery life of dual-core phones will be like since we don’t know what other power sipping features they will include, but a dual-core CPU should go a long way in helping out.
Verdict: Approved – Everyone wishes their phone’s battery lasted longer. A more power efficient CPU should help to extend battery life for the common user.
Higher quality game play experience for advanced console-style mobile games
NVIDIA has focused on graphics processing units since they were founded in 1993, so gaming should be an area they excel at.
One thing is for sure, the Tegra 2 SoC will be the only dual-core platform that has a “console class Ultra Low Power (ULP)” GeForce GPU. Unlike Samsung and Texas Instruments that license their GPUs from other companies, NVIDIA designed their mobile GPU in-house.
Their whitepaper didn’t provide a ton of technical information about their mobile GeForce GPU, but NVIDIA says the architecture of the GPU in the Tegra processor is similar to that of desktop GeForce GPUs. This means that games that were originally developed for multi-core desktop CPUs and desktop GPU architectures can be easily ported to run on NVIDIA Tegra.
We are already seeing this come true since Epic Games is releasing their Unreal Engine 3 for Android and id Software is working on their Rage Mobile engine. The best 3D engines are going mobile and game studios will be able to easily port their titles to Android. Dungeon Defenders is a prime example as it will released on the Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, PC, iOS, and Android in a short period of time.
Most current console and PC games were developed for multi-core hardware so they will deliver the best performance on mobile devices that support multi-core architectures.
A couple of benchmarks were tossed in to show how Tegra 2 handles games in an environment with background tasks.
Reports show that the number of mobile gamers will grow to 100 million by 2014. Developers of popular console games will not be able to ignore this growth and will port their titles to phones and tablets.
Verdict: Approved – Some Android phones are more powerful than the iPhone 4, but Android still doesn’t have the same quality of games that you find on Apple’s iOS. We want better games, so bring on the dual-core processors that will make it easier for console developers to port their titles to Android.
Highly responsive and smoother UIs and faster multitasking
Android was designed for multitasking, but we have all experienced some slow down on our phones when we have multiple apps running at the same time. I’m not sure if dual-core processors can totally eliminate the pauses we sometimes experience, but it should help greatly reduce them.
NVIDIA explains the Android multitasking situation as follows:
Smartphone users typically have several applications running concurrently. For example, it is not uncommon to see applications such as web browsers, streaming music, email syncs, social network syncs, and news feeders running concurrently on a mobile device. Under such heavy multitasking conditions, single core CPUs often hit peak utilization and are unable to immediately switch over to processing user interaction tasks, and this results in delays and noticeable lag in responsiveness.
Since a dual-core CPU with symmetrical multiprocessing can dynamically divide the workload among both cores, the operating system can assign background tasks like music streaming and syncing to one core and use the other core for latency-sensitive tasks such as user interactions and web browsing.
Future versions of Android (like Honeycomb) should also increase the overall responsiveness since Google is working on GPU acceleration for the whole UI.
Verdict: Approved – No one likes a smartphone that stutters, but it is bound to happen when running multiple apps. Dual-core processors should improve the overall responsiveness and that is something we can all be excited about.
No matter what type of Android user you consider yourself to be, dual-core processors should have some benefit to offer you. They will raise the performance bar, reduce power usage, deliver console-style games, and make the overall Android experience more responsive.
We don’t know which dual-core CPU will be the fastest, but NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 will be the first.
LG and Motorola are going to deliver Tegra 2 phones, NVIDIA’s CEO said Samsung would be a big customer, and Digitimes reports that NVIDIA has received Tegra 2 orders from others including Asus, Acer, and Toshiba.
I haven’t even played with a Tegra 2 phone yet, so I’m not saying they are going to take over the world but it certainly appears that NVIDIA has won quite a few product designs and will have a chance to get in the ring with Qualcomm and Samsung. Texas Instruments is also still in the picture but there hasn’t been much news about their dual-core OMAP4, which we don’t expect to see till Q2 2011.
I’m excited to see NVIDIA enter the game just like I was glad to see LG leak their dual-core phone. Android is a great breeding ground for underdogs and I love the competition it gives the big guys. If LG starts cranking out quality high-end phones on every carrier with the latest version Android while their competition continues to ship devices with outdated software, then people are going to start buying more LG devices.
We should also trust that Motorola knows what they are doing since they have the best selling Android phone to date – the original Droid. If Motorola switched from Texas Intrusments to NVIDIA for their high-end processors, that should tell us a lot about the performance of Tegra 2.
Multi-core processors will be the standard in mobile devices starting early next year and I can’t wait to see the new experiences that they will unlock. If you are in the market for a new Android phone, I think waiting a month or two for a dual-core device is the smart thing to do in the long run.
I’m just one geek, so I’m curious what you guys think. Are dual-core phones starting to look more tempting now? What other areas do you think the CPU makers need to address? Are you ready to pre-order that first Tegra 2 phone or will you wait and see what Qualcomm and Samsung deliver?
If you want even more information about Tegra 2, hit up the source link for the full whitepaper.