Intel may be leading the pack when it comes to desktop and notebook processors, but the chip vendor still has a ways to go proving itself in the smartphone market. If — and when — the day arrives that Intel can say it’s dominating the segment, we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, the company is happy to crap on its dual-core competitors, including the likes of Samsung, NVIDIA and Qualcomm.
Intel’s entry into the smartphone world, the single-cored Atom Z2460, was actually very decent, if not impressive, performing noticeably better than the iPhone 4S, powered by a dual-core A5 and the Galaxy Nexus, itself packing ARM’s dual-core Cortex-A9.
Even with such positive benchmarks to wield in the face of its detractors, it appears Intel isn’t holding back when it comes to talking about multi-core manufacturers. In an interview with The Inquirer, Intel’s Mike Bell, general manager of the company’s mobile and communications group, made it clear that having more than one core on smartphones might be a waste right now. Bell blames a combination of hardware and software as the culprit, with the chips unable to properly manage the workloads:
“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.”
Intel has plenty of experience with building processors, especially ones with low power consumption and high performance. The company has even experimented with the prospect of a dual-core chip, but was not taken with the results:
“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.”
The Android operating itself was in the firing line, but Bell did blame chip vendors for not doing enough to spruce up multi-core performance:
“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.”
When dual-core chips first arrived on desktops, there was a valid argument for sticking with higher-clocked, single-core chips — but only because the software had yet to be optimised. Now, operating systems are well-tuned for distributing threads and programming frameworks have taken strides to make multi-threading a less daunting task. There’s a reason why they don’t make single-core desktop chips any more.
I don’t see smartphones as much different and these issues, as Intel sees them, should sort themselves out in time. I don’t think anyone’s particularly disappointed with the performance of the latest multi-core phones and where these devices have the ability to scale with software, extending their lifespan, it’s hard to see Intel’s single-core chips having the same longevity.