Android devices multi-core processor use flawed for now, says Intel

by: Chris SmithJune 11, 2012
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While Intel is a respected desktop and laptop chipmaker, the company is yet to make a name for itself in the mobile business. But Intel is definitely interested in convincing smartphones and tablet makers with its recent announcement that the Medfield Atom processor is a good choice for upcoming mobile devices. What better way to do it than to criticize what the competition has to offer?

The Inquirer details certain comments made by Mike Bell, Intel’s General Manager of the Mobile and Communication Group, regarding the efficiency of multiple-core processors found inside current Android devices. According to Bell, these Android devices are seldom able to make the most of their dual or quad-core CPUs, as chipmakers failed to adapt their multi-core technology to better fit Android’s needs. Bell says that certain unnamed devices actually perform better when using only a single core for certain Android tasks than by having more cores involved in running them:

If you take a look a lot of handsets on the market, when you turn on the second core or having the second core there [on die], the [current] leakage is high enough and their power threshold is low enough because of the size of the case, that it isn’t entirely clear you get much of a benefit to turning the second core on. We ran our own numbers and [in] some of the use cases we’ve seen, having a second core is actually a detriment, because of the way some of the people have not implemented their thread scheduling.

One could argue that Intel is criticizing the competition only to highlight the advantages of its own Medfield CPU and explain why it doesn’t have a multi-core mobile processor of its own yet. At the same time, let’s not forget that Intel does know a thing or two about multi-core CPU efficiency in general, and the comments made by Bell may be worth investigating further.

So far, only three Medfield based devices have been announced, the Orange San Diego (Santa Clara) the Lenovo K800, and the Lava Xolo X900.  At the same time, Intel and Motorola have announced a multi-year, multi-device partnership back at CES 2012, so we expect to see various (Google) Motorola Android devices come with Atom chips on board in the near future.

Orange San Diego

Intel’s Medfield SoC uses a single-core processor built on x86 technology, and we’re certainly interested to see how Medfield-powered Android devices will do compared to the competition.

As for the competition, just a few days ago we explained in detail what the term “System on a Chip” means and we showed you the main players in the business. Not counting Intel, we have five (count them, 5!) other companies that are designing various ARM-based multi-core chips that are currently used in various Android devices. These are, in no particular order, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments and ST-Ericsson.

These dual or quad-core processors are certainly one of the selling points for current Android devices. So whether Intel is right or wrong, Android device makers will keep using them in future devices. From a different point of view, even if Intel’s claims are perfectly legal, the chipmaker can’t dispute any of the benchmarks that show the superiority of this year’s dual and quad-core mobile devices compared to older smartphones and tablets.

It’s also worth pointing out that Intel failed to provide more proof to back up its statements, so we’re definitely looking forward to hear more on the matter from the company.

What do you think about this statement? Is Intel just trying to launch a smear campaign in order to maintain market position or do they have a valid set of points that everyone should take into serious consideration?

  • Intel is the new McAffee. Spookie spookie, buy my product. Its an oldie but goodie.

  • Andvanced Micro Devices (AMD) should better embrace the ARM architecture soon, before it gets late. So we can have more competition.

  • I still wouldn’t mind a quad-core Android phone capable of doing most of the things one would actually need to on a phone. Maybe much much more with the quality of Android Games we have been seeing in the past few months.

  • Jimmyhor

    Intel had a point and the burden old proof isn’t on them. Actually it’s the other way round. Chip makers who market their quadccore chips need to provide proof that commonly used applications such as web and navigation benefit from multiple cores. So far there’s none.

    • AppleFUD

      So benchmarks and side by side comparisons of the same apps running and running faster on quad-core SoC mean nothing?

      • FoolSolo

        Correct – most multi-core phones are running faster clock speeds than previous gen uni-core phones, so comparing an older uni-core at a slow 1Ghz clock to a newer 1.7Ghz multi-core is a bogus test. You need to test the same family and same generation with the same clock speed.

        So far all that multi-core phones have proven is that they drain the batteries pretty fast.

  • Intel, sour grapes.

  • Intel getting ousted by mobile phone specific processor OEMs will be a classic case-study in disruption theory in about a decade.