MADISON, Wis. -- Mobile devices (smartphones and tablets included) have grown more popular over the last several years, but they have also fallen victim to specmanship. Aside from a device's screen size (and the number of pixels its image processor can handle), much of the worth of a mobile device nowadays appears to be measured by which processing core the CPU uses, how fast the processor runs, and, most importantly, how many cores the apps processor has.
Core count has been a particularly popular measuring stick -- for both the breathless news media and the marketing departments of apps processor suppliers -- to illustrate technical advancements in a next-generation tablet or smartphone. The dual-core apps processor battle (still new early in 2012) was quickly replaced by the emerging quad-core devices late last year. But you can forget about quad-core processors; octa-core devices are now the rage.
The multi-core race certainly has a funny way of making you feel inadequate, especially if the new phone/tablet you buy this year isn't powered by at least eight processor cores. Do I hear 16?
Consumers won't notice the difference?
Samsung's Galaxy S4 is believed to be the first smartphone to give consumers an awesome octa-core processing experience. However, according to a CNET report in late April, US customers aren't likely to get their hands on it.
Some models of Samsung's flagship smartphone [Galaxy S4], available globally in the coming weeks, will feature a quad-core processor from Qualcomm while others will feature Samsung's Exynos 5 chip with eight cores. The U.S. version will use the 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 series chip.
What caught my attention, though, is that JK Shin, co-CEO of Samsung and head of its mobile business, "told CNET after an event Wednesday in New York that the general public won't really notice or care." He also said the company chose processors that could provide a similar consumer experience.
I found that comment refreshing.
Is he really saying consumers don't care whether they get quad-core or octa-core processors? I suspect Shin's emphasis was more on the importance of securing the necessary volume of apps processors from multiple sources, but Samsung's mobile business chief might have spoken the truth inadvertently about the overblown multi-core race.
The number of processing cores is too simple a yardstick to evaluate the performance of an apps processor in real-world experience. What matters most is the optimization of each core when running certain mobile applications on smartphones or tablets and -- more importantly -- its efficiency in handling such tasks to save energy.
To that end, MediaTek is throwing a new wrinkle -- heterogeneous multi-processing (HMP) -- into the multi-core competition.