Intel: Android dual core support so poor “having a second core is actually a detriment”

Dual-core processors are just for show on Android

Android OEMs famously shipped phones with dual core processors well before the operating system even supported it. In fact it was only with the release of Android 2.3.4 in April 2011 that the OS was finally meant to be utilizing the second core many devices were already shipping with.

Now Intel has revealed in their testing that even in the latest version of the Android operating system, Android 4 ICS, having multiple cores remains of little benefit most of the time and can even be detrimental to performance.

According to Mike Bell, GM of Intel’s Mobile and Communications Group, Android’s thread scheduler simply isn’t ready for multi-core processors.

Bell said, “If you are in a non-power constrained case, I think multiple cores make a lot of sense because you can run the cores full out, you can actually heavily load them and/or if the operating system has a good thread scheduler. A lot of stuff we are dealing with, thread scheduling and thread affinity, isn’t there yet and on top of that, largely when the operating system goes to do a single task, a lot of other stuff stops. So as we move to multiple cores, we’re actually putting a lot of investment into software to fix the scheduler and fix the threading so if we do multi-core products it actually takes advantage of it.”

Bell also claimed that Intel’s internal testing had shown multi-core implementations running slower than single core, however he did not finger any particular chip. “If you take a look a lot of handsets on the market, when you turn on the second core or having the second core there [on die], the [current] leakage is high enough and their power threshold is low enough because of the size of the case that it isn’t entirely clear you get much of a benefit to turning the second core on. We ran our own numbers and [in] some of the use cases we’ve seen, having a second core is actually a detriment, because of the way some of the people have not implemented their thread scheduling.”

“I’ve taken a look at the multiple core implementations in the market, and frankly, in a thermal and/or power constrained environment – what has been implemented – it isn’t obvious to me you really get the advantage for the size and the cost of what’s going into that part,” said Bell.

“The way it’s implemented right now, Android does not make as effective use of multiple cores as it could, and I think – frankly – some of this work could be done by the vendors who create the SoCs, but they just haven’t bothered to do it.”

Right now the lack of software effort by some of the folks who have done their hardware implementation is a bigger disadvantage than anything else,” said Bell.

Of course we know the biggest advantage to Android OEMs was not in performance but marketing, leading to the helter-skelter rush from single core to dual core to now quad-core processors, much like the chrome fins on cars in the 1950s. Given the obsessive work the Windows Phone developer team have done on performance in Windows Phone 7 I suspect very much when Windows Phone 8 arrives on dual core processors the OS will be wringing every drop of performance from the chipsets, quite unlike Android still.



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