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Dual Core Processors Wasted on Android, Intel Claims

Two cores aren't better than one in Android phones, which don't take advantage of the technology, according to an Intel executive.

Current versions of Google's Android operating system for smartphones make woeful use of their dual core processors, according to an Intel executive.

Poor implementation of threading technology by the operating system saps any benefits dual core processing brings to a system -- and in some cases can actually be a detriment to performance, contends Mike Bell, general manager of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group.

Bell told The Inquirer that even the latest version of Android, 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) suffers from problems with threading scheduling that limits the benefits dual core ARM processors bring to Android phones. Intel uses a competing technology, Atom, in its mobile processor.

What's more, he maintains that Intel testing found single core processors running faster than some dual core processors. For a lot of the handsets in the market, it isn't clear that much benefit is gained by turning on the chip's second core. Worse yet, "having a second core is actually a detriment, because of the way some of the people have not implemented their thread scheduling," Bell says.

While multicore processors offer performance benefits in environments without power constraints, Bell maintained, that's not the case with smartphones, which have limits on both power consumption and thermal tolerances.

Bell doesn't lay all the blame for the poor performance of dual processors on Android's doorstep. Some of the OS's threading scheduler problems could be addressed by the chip makers, he asserts, "they just haven't bothered to do it." 

Consider the Source

One has to wonder how much of Bell's thinking is colored by Intel's experience in the mobile market. No smartphones currently have Intel processors in them. The company's first stab at making a mobile chip, Moorestown, flopped. Its latest offering, Medfield, has had better luck. It has lined up Motorola and Lenovo to make smartphones with the chips later this year.

Nevertheless, it's true that multicore processing has been used as a marketing tool of Android handset makers. For example, they began releasing phones with dual core processors even before Android could support those chips. And they've rushed to bring quad core phones into the market.

While Bell's remarks on dual core performance may have a marketing spin of their own, the questions they raise need further exploration by a party with less of a stake in the market. If Android can't handle the existing dual core chips in its handsets, what's the point of doubling the cores -- other than to make meaningless marketing claims and deceive consumers that they're getting performance that they're not.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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