Dual Core Processors To Empower Next-Gen Mobile Devices

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Not long ago (5 years only), desktop computing encountered the same problem where mobile computing is headed today i.e. high power consumption for increase in processing power.

Problem was tackled with the introduction of multi-core processing allowing optimum performance with lower power consumption.

Similarly, the concept of mobile computing has reached to a whole new level with all new demands – with the introduction of mobile devices with processing power up to 1GHz. The trend is gradually shifting towards having desktop like web-browsing and video recording/playback experience on mobile gadgets. After all, if your device is capable of encoding/decoding 720p HD videos and can output it over HDMI then you’d probably prefer your pocket-sized portable device over a dedicated player more often.

After the release of Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab last year, mobile industry is speculated to see a lot of new tablets from different manufacturers this year. The expectations would be high in terms of performance and manufacturers will have to live up to them if they want to be in the contention.

Of course, they’d need capable hardware components to accomplish the tasks and offer support to different application developers.

What’s the Need of Dual Core Processing?

If an OS (Android, iOS or WinMo) running on top of 1GHz processor with dedicated hardware accelerated graphics chips, providing snappier UI performance than ever before and almost delivering desktop like web-experience on mobile devices then why is it all of a sudden that much necessary to switch to multi-core processing? Why not just enhance the processing power to let’s say 1.5 or 2 GHz to cater for the high end demands?

Think about browsing a website (over WiFi) containing ActiveX/JavaScript menus and having Adobe Flash contents, sending text messages to a list of recipients and social network application clients running in background, also having several OS specific processes running in parallel.

Single core processors can handle this level of multi-tasking but it’d be too much of a task. Since ActiveX/JavaScript codes require separate processing, Flash content also needs to be processed independently and there can be more than one instances of Flash objects, additionally, SNS applications clients are running with other processes in parallel so it’s obvious that under these heavy circumstances single core processor will be operating at its maximum frequency.

Higher the operating frequency of a semiconductor device, higher will be the power consumption (which actually defines the battery backup of mobile devices in our example).

Now, let’s think of having same processes but on a dual-core processing device. OS can easily distribute the jobs among the cores and both processors will be operating at normal frequency (no over-loading or operating at maximum frequency), thus, there’ll be no high power consumption.

This is, certainly, not the only case where dual-core processors will be required. There’re numerous examples where a multi-core processor is the next-best-thing to have e.g. 1080p HD video encoding/decoding, multi-threaded web browsers and applications, online gaming, support for stereoscopic cameras for 3D video capturing and 3D (glasses-free) video playback etc.

General Architecture, Manufacturers & Benefits of Dual-Core Processors:

Unlike desktop processors, mobile processors are based on System-on-a-chip (SoC) concept. An SoC, typically, has a processor, a dedicated graphics processing Unit (GPU), memory blocks, support for external connectivity interfaces and voltage & power management circuits.

A multi-core SoC consists of more than one processor cores or Digital Signal processor (DSP) cores, GPU, L1 & L2 cache blocks and also supports different features offered by the manufacturer.

Currently, three manufacturers are offering Dual-Core SoC based on ARMv7 Instruction set processor architecture.

nVIDIA’s Tegra-2, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon (3rd generation chipsets) and Texas Instruments’ (TI) OMAP-4 platforms offer dual-core processors with dedicated GPUs and manufacturer specific implementations of low power consumption algorithms. Both Tegra-2 and OMAP-4 based chips have ARM Coretx-A9 processor cores while the cores in Snapdragon platform chips have been designed by Qualcomm based on ARM architecture.

One of the major advantages of multi-core processing is the implementation of Symmetrical Multiprocessing (SMP) technology. SMP is being extensively used in desktop computing and ARM has introduced this concept to handheld devices with the introduction of Cortex-A9 Multi-processors. SMP architecture consist of two or more identical processor cores on a single chip with all cores sharing a common memory and controlled by a single operating system. All cores can work independently or in load-sharing mode whenever required.

In example, discussed above, OS is exploiting SMP to distribute the tasks among two cores keeping the device within power limits. Multi-threaded application and games can be benefited greatly by multi-core processors having SMP support since OS can assign multiple threads of an application to one or multiple cores depending upon the workload and type of activity thus optimizing performance. If required OS can even turn off other cores and utilize only one core for a specific operation. SMP can also enhance device UI experience for faster response since multiple applications running in background, at times, on a single core processor system result in delayed response to input commands.

Devices With Dual-Core Processors:

LG Electronics has taken the initiative to introduce world’s first dual-core mobile phone in the form of LG Optimus 2X, which is powered by nVIDIA Tegra-2 platform.

Motorola ATRIX is the other device sporting same dual-core hardware processing capabilities. Samsung have announced that successor of their coveted and highly successful device (Samsung I9000 Galaxy S) will also feature a dual-core processor.

It’s just the beginning of new generation of mobile phone; called SuperPhones by nVIDIA. A lot of new devices; including but not limited to mobile phones, featuring dual-core processors are expected to be announced at Mobile World Congress 2011 (Barcelona from 14-17 Feb 2011).

Final Words:

SMP supported Dual-core processor devices provide unparalleled opportunities to manufacturers and application developers.

They’re aimed at providing optimum performance and unprecedented user experience with support for cutting-edge technologies. Application developers have now lot of room available to effectively utilize the hardware capabilities of devices as multi-threaded support will greatly benefit their applications and games. While, current release of mobile OSes (Android for example) may not be optimized for multi-core devices but device performance can expected to be better when compared to single-core alternatives available.

Note: For further details on architecture and performance enhancements by multi-core processors, please refer to these whitepapers by nVIDIA and TI.


  • A for Apple

    Motorola Xoom… dual core with native support for multiprocessing (in Andriod 3). will be interesting to follow up….

  • blogvlog.info

    informative post…

  • Rameez Kakakhel

    In my opinion a Coretx A8 coupled with a decent Graphics processing chip is enough to cater to the needs of almost all of the user’s cellphone needs these days. The OS has to be efficient enough.
    .
    Look at the N8, what does it offer in terms of Multimedia performance and what’s inside it?
    I was surprised to know that it has an ARM11 not even the Cortex A8. And that too a mere 680MHz ARM11 (i guess it doesn’t get above that). And it encodes/decodes video in 720P easily, even outputs at that rate with Dolby certification (for sound), handles all the Radio comm, memory, touchscreen controls & components etc.
    Why? Because they Symbian is a much more efficient piece of software than a Java VM running over a Linux Kernel (Android as they call it). Though Symbian offers less eye-candy. Android is great, I am using it, it just needs to get less hardware demanding. That seems not possible and we are delivering more and more powerful hardware to cater to that problem, isn’t it?
    Software guys always have the luxury of more processing power at their disposal than they may need.
    .
    Imagine a Cortex A8 + Broadcom BCM2763.
    OR
    Coretx A8 + Nvidia GeForce ULP.
    .
    .
    Any need for Cortex A9 or Dual cores? I don’t think so..
    .
    .
    .
    p.s. The Sony NGP (or PSP 2) uses a 4-Core Cortex A9, that’s a Quad Core mobile processor.

    • W.A

      Well my friend i’m afraid it’s not your or my opinion that counts it’s what the need of the hour is according to leading manufacturers. Everybody wants to be in business so if manufacturers are coming forward with new solution then we ought to be the ones making hay while the sun is shining :-)

      I agree, Cortex A8 with dedicated GPUs are more than sufficient for everyday use but this is certainly not the end. N8 is a good device so as many others which are performing well but technology keeps on evolving and isn’t meant to be stagnant. Stereoscopic photo/video-graphy is coming to mobile devices and to think that any resource efficient OS (let it be Symbian for example) would be able to handle two High Megapixel (8MP each) cameras, is too much of a ask. This is just one example only the list continues…

      @ PSP-2 it has Quad-Core Cortex-A9 since ARM Cortex A-9 has support for maximum 4 cores at the moment.

      • Rameez Kakakhel

        “Well my friend i’m afraid it’s not your or my opinion that counts”
        .
        How tragic? Isn’t it? :P
        .
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        I don’t care about cellphone manufacturers using so to say dated technology. I am worried about the Tech Developers/Designers. you see 3 years back the best smartphone had an ARM11 ~400MHz. Now there is Cortex A9. If you look we have jumped over a whole generation of Mobile CPU’s (Cortex A8).
        Will we be able to develop at that speed in the future? how much stress is it putting on the designers? (here in case ARM).
        .
        Don’t you think we should slow down a little bit & utilize whatever we have to the full and than think of moving forward?? I think we should.
        .
        .
        “Stereoscopic photo/video-graphy is coming to mobile devices and to think that any resource efficient OS (let it be Symbian for example) would be able to handle two High Megapixel (8MP each) cameras, is too much of a ask. ”
        .
        Now I don’t know what Stereoscopic Photography is :p but I know that the N8 takes some stunning shots and for that it uses the Broadcom BCM2727 Chip. Here is the list of what Broadcom BCM2763 can do:
        – Rendering Videos at 1080p
        – rendering native games at that resolution.
        (with HDMI-Out they claim console like gaming)
        – Stills at around 20MP with features like Image stabilization, Panorama, Smile/Face detection etc.
        – 20 to 50% power reduction compared to the previous ones.
        .
        .
        Cortex A8 + BCM2763 — :) :) LOVE <3 .. Lolz! :D
        A Cortex A8 with BCM2727 will make a good couple too :)
        Now I don't see where the A9 fits in here except as a Heavy Weight Muscular body builder Groom for our Bride to be BCM2763 :P
        .
        .
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        p.s. Nice to read some Nice comments :) I had really given up on PP Commentors :P

        • W.A

          “How tragic? Isn’t it? :P”

          it sure’s :-)

          “I am worried about the Tech Developers/Designers. you see 3 years back the best smartphone had an ARM11 ~400MHz. Now there is Cortex A9. Will we be able to develop at that speed in the future? how much stress is it putting on the designers? (here in case ARM).”

          Well you shouldn’t be worried unless you’re one of them :-). I can even remember the time when Nokia enviously announced their Flagship smartphone in the form of Nokia 6600 sporting ARM9 104MHz processor with VGA camera and thought that this is the future, and see no one even bothers to remember what that future was :). I’m not a developer but i bet they really enjoy to take the game on to next level when hardware manufacturers provide them with opportunities. And you know it might happen after a couple of years that Quad-core processing or might be some new technology erupts and outcasts all others. Let me tell you an interesting thing – if you happen to go through product bulletin by TI you’d be surprised to read their claim in opening paragraph that they’re providing developers with support for new application that haven’t been imagined yet. I mean if no one has imagined it yet how can they imagine that their hardware is capable enough??? :-)

          http://focus.ti.com/lit/ml/swpt034a/swpt034a.pdf

          “Cortex A8 + BCM2763 — :) :)”

          Well you can set up your own manufacturing company and start producing this combination but i’m afraid by the time you’d release your product world would’ve adopted new standards thus ruining your business and no one would suggest you to do that. right? at least i wouldn’t :-)

          @ your P.S:
          Well you provided your valuable feedback i’d have supported you but i can’t help it being the writer of the article. I’ve to back what i’ve written :-)

  • Ali

    well I don’t really know how smartphones with dual core processors might act on Meego, Symbian etc., but the first device with dual core on Android has simply failed to impress. The LG Optmus 2X was supposed to be “extra” fast, stable and all, but tests show that it crashed when a simple application like Advanced Task Killer was executed. You can blame it on Linux Memory Management etc., but if the first device acts like this, then I am not too impressed and will stick to single core but stable and fast handsets etc.

    • W.A

      Well as far as MeeGo is concerned, Nokia and intel have no plans for multi-core processors they’re happy with their Moorestown platform having Intel Atem core with dedicated GPU and power saving algorithms, so first MeeGo device won’t be based on multi-core architecture probably.

      http://download.intel.com/pressroom/kits/events/idffall_2009/pdfs/IDFDay2_Moorestown_FactSheet.pdf

      Talking about Symbian, TI’s OMAP-4 platform has support for Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile Platforms, it’s just the matter of decision by Nokia (being at their own now-a-days @ Symbian) to check it out. But since Nokia have the habit of being coming-late-and-trying-to-rule-them-all who knows when they’d release a flagship device with multi-core processing.

      Regarding, LG Optimus Crash problem, test units are meant to bear crashes and bugs, final retail unit is not available yet and as mentioned by you Andriod OS is not yet polished for multi-core processing therefore there might not be much difference in terms of general visible performance at the moment but benchmarking results are way better than single core devices.