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In 2012, however, it will be all about quad-core. But other than having double the cores of this year’s smartphones, what exactly is a “quad-core” processor, and what do quad-cores mean for the smartphones of 2012?

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  1. 1. 03/01/2012 09:28 Quad-Core Smartphones: What to Suppose in 2012 The State of Multicore Processors One of the big mobile buzzwords of 2011 was “dual- core.” Dual-core processors became the standard for high-end smartphones, starting with the LG Optimus 2X in January. In 2012, however, it will be all about quad-core. But other than having double the cores Nvidia was the first to bring dual-core processing of this year’s smartphones, what exactly is a “quad- to mobile with the LG Optimus 2X, which debu- core” processor, and what do quad-cores mean for ted at the beginning of this year with the Tegra the smartphones of 2012? 2 chip. Nvidia is blazing the multicore trail again with the release of theAsus Eee Pad Transformer We’ve all heard the marketing: More cores equal Prime TF201 tablet. The Transformer Prime is the more power and a faster smartphone. That’s great first device to ship with Nvidia’s 1.3-GHz Tegra 3 news for everybody, but I wanted to find out how this quad-core processor. For now, it’s the only quad- would change performance for phones and how it core device on the market. The Transformer earned applies to real-world scenarios. And since this term high praise from us for its stunning graphics and is already infiltrating the tech world (though only zippy performance. one actual quad-core product is on the market), I also wanted to get an idea of when we’ll actually see Manufacturers are keeping mum about when we’ll quad-core phones. I spoke with a few of the major see quad-core phones, however. Nvidia has said it is system-on-a-chip manufacturers and got some in- working with a number of device makers on Tegra sight into next year’s powerful smartphones. 3-powered phones, but can’t reveal who they are due to nondisclosure agreements. Quad-core phones are “on track,” however, for 2012s first quarter. Of course, that doesn’t stop the blogosphere from speculating. The rumored HTC Edge will supposedly be the world’s first quad-core smartphone, running the Tegra 3 chip. Mobile news sitePocketNow claims Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 1
  2. 2. 03/01/2012 09:28 Quad-Core Smartphones: What to Suppose in 2012 to have exclusive images as well as a spec sheet. We generation of its own Exynos line of systems-on-a- take such rumors with a grain of salt, however. The chip. The next one, the Exynos 5250, isn’t quad-core, mobile world is prone to shake-ups and surprises, however; it is a dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processor. and news of phones from so-called “reliable sources” Like TI, Samsung seems to be confident that the Exy- don’t always come to fruition. nos 5250 can produce benchmarks and performance competitive with a quad-core processor. Qualcomm stated last month that its quad-core Snapdragon chip, the APQ064, will join its S4 line The More Cores, the Better? of products. Based on ARM architecture, the S4 chips will run at clock speeds between 1.5GHz and 2.5GHz. According to Nvidia, quad-core processors improve Qualcomm’s Vice President of Product Manage- performance during multitasking as well as the per- ment Raj Talluri, confirmed that the first phones formance of multithreaded applications. Nvidia says with quad-core Snapdragon chips will ship around a quad-core processor will bring to your phone a the holiday season next year. level of performance comparable to that of a des- ktop computer. “People are going to consider their phones as their primary computer,” says Nick Stam, director of tech- nical marketing at Nvidia. “Phones with a quad-core processor are really full computers that can replace many functions of your laptop or [desktop] compu- ter. It is a level of performance that truly does rival a desktop processor.” Qualcomm’s Talluri expects users will see the power of quad-core in the multitasking speed. The speed in which you switch between open applications will be much faster than that of a dual-core phone. Unlike Nvidia and Qualcomm, chipset manufacturer When I spoke with Nvidia and Qualcomm, I asked TI isn’t putting a number on its OMAP processor. for a few examples of applications that could fully Rather than calling them dual-core or quad-core, TI take advantage of quad-core processors. Gaming, of refers to them as “multicore.” My colleague, Melissa course, is the popular example. Quad-core proces- Perenson, visited TI last week at its headquarters sors support multithreaded applications, meaning in Dallas, Texas, where the company showed off its an app that runs multiple processes at once, like a latest system-on-a-chip, the OMAP 5. The company game. Therefore, Gameplay on a phone that can didn’t give any exact benchmarks, but maintains support these simultaneous processes is much more that the OMAP 5 produces speeds competitive with fluid and snappier with higher-quality graphics. Nvidia’s quad-core processor. Samsung’s phones and tablets have used both Snap- dragon and Tegra chipsets, but the manufacturer’s semiconductor division is hard at work on the next Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 2
  3. 3. 03/01/2012 09:28 Quad-Core Smartphones: What to Suppose in 2012 phone consumes less power than a dual-core phone. The Tegra 3 chips actually have a fifth “companion core” that is built using a special lower-power-silicon process. This companion core handles tasks at a lower frequency for active standby mode, music playback, and video playback. Qualcomm’s Talluri explains that Qualcomm’s quad- core chips will be able to run simultaneously at dif- ferent clock frequencies and at different voltages. For example, say you open an e-mail (which requires little power) and then click on a link that opens a Flash-based website with video (which requires significantly more power). The system will smartly Games aren’t the only applications that can real- adapt its cores to handle the different power levels. ly benefit from a quad-core processor, however. Imaging software, such as a panoramic app, can I predict that we’ll see more quad-core tablets at stitch together multiple photos much faster than a CES in January, and that the first quad-core phones single- or dual-core phone. Photo and video apps, (likely from Nvidia) will appear the following month like Adobe’s Photoshop Touch for tablets, also benefit at Mobile World Congress. But right now, it is still from the extra horsepower. too early to predict the impact of quad-core phones on the mobile world. One of the arguments against quad-core mobile devices — and really, even dual-core devices — is Related Articles: that not enough content is optimized to fully take advantage of the CPU’s power. Both Nvidia and Qualcomm assured me that they are actively wor- king with developers to optimize content for their chips. But in reality, we won’t see a boom of these fully optimized applications until actual quad-core products ship. Battery Life: What’s at Stake? Shortened battery life is the thorn in the side of smartphone innovation. Smartphone batteries can’t seem to hold up as processors get more powerful and networks become faster. But Nvidia says that quad-core processors are ac- tually easier on battery life than single- or dual-core chips. With the Tegra 3, the processes are distributed across the multiple cores, and therefore a quad-core Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 3