It seems like just yesterday we were starting to see dual-core processors arrive in our smartphones and tablets. Today you’ll have a difficult time finding one that only has a single core. Most current phones and tabs have either dual- or quad-cores powering them — some even have five!
Before we jump into what one would do with eight-cores, let’s go back to that 5-core oddity for a moment. NVIDIA’s Kal-El has what they call a “companion core” that the OS doesn’t even know exists. The chipset itself hands off various tasks to the little processor, which only runs at 500MHz to save power. It’s worth noting that this arrangement doesn’t speed anything up. If anything it slows it down a little — but so little that you’ll probably never notice.
Now, rumors have it, Samsung may be planning something similar. Their plan, if true, is a bit different than NVIDIA’s. They plan to marry a super-powerful quad-core Cortex-A15 CPU with an energy-efficient quad-core Cortex-A7. Like NVIDIA’s companion core, Samsung’s chipset would switch between the faster, but more power-hungry A15 to the slower but lower-power A7 depending on the load. Just like NVIDIA, this solution would only show four cores to the OS, and not all the cores would run at the same time — so it’s still really just a quad-core solution.
Why would Samsung embark on such a task? It’s actually part of ARM’s big.LITTLE concept:
“big.LITTLE processing is designed to deliver the vision of the right processor for the right job. The Cortex-A15 processor is the highest performing, low-power ARM processor ever developed, while the Cortex-A7 processor is the most energy efficient ARM application processor ever designed. The performance capabilities of the Cortex-A15 processor can be utilized for heavy workloads, while the Cortex-A7 can take over to most efficiently process the majority of smartphone workloads. These include operating system activities, user interface and other always on, always connected tasks.”
It’s rumored that this will be the chipset that will power Samsung’s Galaxy S IV, but we suspect it will land in a tablet before a smartphone. In either event, what does an eight-core solution mean for smartphones in particular?
Why put eight cores in a smartphone?
Smartphones are much smaller than their tablet counterparts, yet run surprisingly similar hardware. Differences center around the battery and the screen, rather than the processors which power. As such, tablets have much longer run-times — in theory — than high-end smartphones.
Leveraging the big.LITTLE concept, smartphones will be able to include super-high-end chips which will give you speed when you need it. They’ll also be able to scale back to the very energy efficient A7 processors when you don’t need all that extra speed — which should help extend your battery life — significantly. At least that’s the plan.
Whether or not this approach works as intended and will realize any battery savings for us remains to be seen. The concept, however, makes us giddy for the not-too-distant future!