Why do (Android) phones need so many cores?

nedia_r

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Hey all,

I have been wondering about this recently, and thought I'd ask here. Why do Android phones need so many cores on their processors? If at all?

The iPhone 5s still has a 2 core processor and it runs brilliantly. For years now one of the focus points for Android phones has been the number of cores it has. It's kind of like the "megapixel wars" of cameras. More is better. Don't buy this dual-core processor phone, ours has EIGHT! But really, are they necessary?

Moto-X-voice-590x330.jpg
Motorola broke the "more cores" dynamic

The biggest evidence to me (that they don't) seems to be Motorola's latest offerings. The Moto X has Motorola's custom X8 processor, based on a Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor. Through the amount of optimisation they carried out along with smaller processors for tasks such as natural language processing, they have created a phone that performs fantastically, without the high frequencies and number of cores that others like Samsung and LG put in their smartphone line-ups.

In terms of performance, it is pretty awesome. Most people claim it to be smooth and responsive, which is probably also helped by a near-stock experience and lack of Touchwiz/Sense/bloatware etc. Looking at some test results from Anandtech we can see this to be the case:

57425.png
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Moto X holds it's own against the 8-core Galaxy S4 and quad-core HTC One

Some might say battery life is increased through having more as lower frequency cores can be utilised for light tasks, however looking at the Anandtech review for the Moto X we can see that there is not much difference. Interestingly enough, they concluded that having 2 cores didn't improve battery life much either, contrary to Googorola's claims.

So at the end of the day, what does it come down to? Is it simply that all these cores are necessary because OEMs such as Samsung aren't willing to spend the time and effort required to optimise their phones to perform well on processors with less cores? Perhaps it is simply like the aforementioned "megapixel wars" of cameras, and more cores is predominantly a marketing ploy?

Either way it will be interesting to see what kind of processors Motorola use in the future after being bought by Lenovo, and where Samsung, HTC et al. go from here.
 

A895

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To better differentiate with competitors in the Android space, not enough optimization, android really does need at least a dual core processor to run well if its not properly optimized, and more cores makes it a better marketing ploy. That's all the reasons I can come up with.

Posted via Moto X or Droid RAZR M on the Android Central App
 

eggantom

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Yeah, optimization is a problem.
However, there is another aspect - gaming. A powerful processor is simply essential for 3D games, though GPU certainly plays a significant role either.
Though, quantity of cores means nothing compared to quality. The more GHz the better.
 

A895

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Yeah, optimization is a problem.
However, there is another aspect - gaming. A powerful processor is simply essential for 3D games, though GPU certainly plays a significant role either.
Though, quantity of cores means nothing compared to quality. The more GHz the better.

Gaming ability is rarely if ever mentioned by OEMs though. GPU is a key factor though. Even though the Moto X has a dual core processor technically it has one of the most powerful GPUs, letting perform just as good if not better against other high end devices, it especially helps it has a lower resolution compared to other high end models as well.

Posted via Moto X or Droid RAZR M on the Android Central App
 

abazigal

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Yeah, optimization is a problem.
However, there is another aspect - gaming. A powerful processor is simply essential for 3D games, though GPU certainly plays a significant role either.
Though, quantity of cores means nothing compared to quality. The more GHz the better.

More often than not, a higher clock speed is often achieved by over-clocking the processor, which tends to generate excessive heat and drain battery life faster. Only Apple and Samsung have the resources to design their own processors, so the rest are forced to just use whatever the best processor on the market currently is, which in turn limits their ability to differentiate their offerings from the rest of the competition.
 

A895

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More often than not, a higher clock speed is often achieved by over-clocking the processor, which tends to generate excessive heat and drain battery life faster. Only Apple and Samsung have the resources to design their own processors, so the rest are forced to just use whatever the best processor on the market currently is, which in turn limits their ability to differentiate their offerings from the rest of the competition.

Apple does not make their own processor, Samsung makes it.

Posted via Moto X or Droid RAZR M on the Android Central App
 

garublador

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There are a few problems with the OP. First, she cherry picked her benchmarks. It's no surprise that different computing companies generally tailor their products to slightly different operations. Phones with more cores do better at other types of operations. Granted, the JavaScript based benchmarks are probably more important to some, but that isn't universal.

Second, the footnote in the second benchmarks is misleading. The 8-core Samsung doesn't use all 8 cores for computing at the same time. It has 4 primary cores and 4 low power cores. The extra cores are to help with battery efficiency, not JavaScript benchmarks.

Third, there isn't really a useful thesis. Why does it matter if one company chooses more computing and less optimization and the other chooses less computing and more optimization? Isn't the real world performance and price all that matters to the customer? She suggesting that the extra cores is only marketing babble, but can't the same be said for bragging about "optimization?" Why does either matter if you get functionally the same performance at the end?
 

nedia_r

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Apple does not make their own processor, Samsung makes it.

Posted via Moto X or Droid RAZR M on the Android Central App

He said they design their own processor, which they do. Samsung manufacturer it but Apple design it themselves.
 

nedia_r

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There are a few problems with the OP. First, she cherry picked her benchmarks. It's no surprise that different computing companies generally tailor their products to slightly different operations. Phones with more cores do better at other types of operations. Granted, the JavaScript based benchmarks are probably more important to some, but that isn't universal.

Second, the footnote in the second benchmarks is misleading. The 8-core Samsung doesn't use all 8 cores for computing at the same time. It has 4 primary cores and 4 low power cores. The extra cores are to help with battery efficiency, not JavaScript benchmarks.

Third, there isn't really a useful thesis. Why does it matter if one company chooses more computing and less optimization and the other chooses less computing and more optimization? Isn't the real world performance and price all that matters to the customer? She suggesting that the extra cores is only marketing babble, but can't the same be said for bragging about "optimization?" Why does either matter if you get functionally the same performance at the end?

I didn't cherrypick, you can look at all the benchmarks here - AnandTech | Moto X Review
 

A895

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I count 8 benchmarks on the CPU page and you posted two of them. That's cherry picking. I notice that you didn't choose to post the AandEBench results.

The Moto X is either in the middle at the pack or at the top of the pack, regardless her point still stands. The Moto X is a very capable performer.

Posted via Moto X or Droid RAZR M on the Android Central App
 

JeffDenver

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Hey all,

I have been wondering about this recently, and thought I'd ask here. Why do Android phones need so many cores on their processors? If at all?
Battery life is a big one...you can just shut down cores that are not needed.

Cost is probably the biggest reason. Apple is able to use dual cores that are just as fast because they pay more for the engineering of them. It is not necessarily better...there are Android phones that are faster than the iPhone 5s. By using more cores Android is able to produce products with the same speed at lower cost. The Moto X uses a dual core CPU that follows Apple's philosphy.

The iPhone 5s still has a 2 core processor and it runs brilliantly. For years now one of the focus points for Android phones has been the number of cores it has. It's kind of like the "megapixel wars" of cameras. More is better. Don't buy this dual-core processor phone, ours has EIGHT! But really, are they necessary?
Usually, yeah. The fastest mobile CPUs right now are not dual core CPUs. More cores means more flexibility.

The biggest evidence to me (that they don't) seems to be Motorola's latest offerings. The Moto X has Motorola's custom X8 processor, based on a Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor. Through the amount of optimisation they carried out along with smaller processors for tasks such as natural language processing, they have created a phone that performs fantastically, without the high frequencies and number of cores that others like Samsung and LG put in their smartphone line-ups.

In terms of performance, it is pretty awesome.
Yeah...but look at the benchmarks...the multi-core CPUs still beat it out. The Moto X did not prove dual core is better...it just proved that dual core can still be decent.

Most people claim it to be smooth and responsive
Which is not necessarily a measure of the CPU speed. Apple can achieve a smooth UI on slower CPUs too...by making the UI the priority. I am guessing the Moto X makes similar compromises.

But check out this video:


The point of this video was originally to display how awesome touchless control is (and it is awesome) but look at the lag time on the Moto X. It is noticeably slower than the quad core Nexus 5. THAT is because of the CPU.

So at the end of the day, what does it come down to? Is it simply that all these cores are necessary because OEMs such as Samsung aren't willing to spend the time and effort required to optimise their phones to perform well on processors with less cores?
If anything it is the opposite I think...I think it'd be harder to divide tasks up among more cores.

Perhaps it is simply like the aforementioned "megapixel wars" of cameras, and more cores is predominantly a marketing ploy?
The actual evidence does not support this conclusion. The fastest CPUs are not dual core CPUs.
 

dc9super80

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Apple does not make their own processor, Samsung makes it.

Posted via Moto X or Droid RAZR M on the Android Central App

He said DESIGN not MAKE. Apple designs their own processors and others make them. What?s more Samsung is not in the most favoured position right now with that job.
 

Fr0gburp3r

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What was that?

yvy7ezy8.jpg
 

A895

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He said DESIGN not MAKE. Apple designs their own processors and others make them. What?s more Samsung is not in the most favoured position right now with that job.

My mistake and what do you mean by not being in the most favored position?

Posted via Moto X or Droid RAZR M on the Android Central App
 

Fr0gburp3r

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Sorry, I posted the wrong link. Here you go.

Apple

I like Android but I'm also not a blind fanboy. More than likely, it's device design would still look like Blackberrys and WinMo phones with physical keypads if the iPhone never brought the smartphone mainstream with its slate design and gesture based touchscreen. You have to give credit where credit is due.
 

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