As we enter 2012, we know that many new processor introductions are on the horizon. Intel will be introducing its new platforms for PCs and servers, ARM will be formally announcing a 64-bit architecture, and many of the ARM partners will be introducing new processors based on the various Cortex cores and core combinations. This is all good news for the industry as whole as we strive to increase performance while maintaining or decreasing costs and power consumption.
So far, the number of cores, or CPU cores to be more specific, has been a very important factor in the industry. Increasing core counts has allowed us to increase overall performance while avoiding the thermal limitations of running a single core processor faster. Increasing core counts has also provided a simple benchmark for comparing products.
While the core count may not translate directly into true system performance, most consumers cannot and do not care to understand the technical aspects of a processor. Consumers just want a simple way to understand the basic difference between products, such as which is newer or which one should provide higher performance and at what cost.
To this end, simple numbers are the easiest to understand. Two cores are better than one and 2GHz is better than 1GHz. That may sound overly simplistic, but In-Stat’s consumer research demonstrates that the processor choice is not a key priority in the choosing of an electronic device by most consumers, but it does assist in comparing two like devices.
Unfortunately, the number of cores really doesn’t give a valid indication of performance. In PC processors, Intel took a step back from increasing the number of cores to re-implementing the use of virtual cores, called Hyperthreading, to provide equal or greater performance than twice the number of physical cores.
In mobile devices, TI has used a combination of low- and high-performance cores to create an efficient processor design. This combination has been so effective that TI’s processor IP partner, ARM, introduced a core combination strategy called Big/Little that combines low- and high-performance cores that are instruction-set compatible for future devices by its semiconductor partners.
So, now one core may actually equal two or more cores, and not all cores may be the same (heterogeneous) but the total solution may be better than if all the cores were the same (homogenous). Confused? Just wait, it gets better.