Is Android Ready for Multi-Core?

Android's been taking a few knocks recently. First there was the uptick in malware targeted at the mobile operating system. Then OpenSignalMaps published a report showing the state of Android fragmentation. And of course a few friendly jibes were aimed at Android when Siri introduced Apple CEO Tim Cook announcing iOS 6 yesterday.

All that is to be expected in a competitive marketplace. There are more Android devices in the U.S. than Apple, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone devices, and being out front puts a target on your back. But now processor maker Intel has come out saying that Android simply isn't ready for multiple-core processors, in spite of tablets and phones already out there with two and four cores.

The statement came from the General Manager of Intel’s Mobile and Communications Group, Mike Bell. “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,” he said, according to The Inquirer of London.Circuitboard Image

You're probably not shocked to learn that Intel is entering the Android device market right about now, and the Atom chip it's using has only a single core. Perhaps Bell's statement is to justify Intel's choice of a single-core processor when other chip makers have used more cores, but it's also perfectly possible that Intel decided to use a single-core chip precisely because multiple cores offered little benefit. I own a dual-core Motorola Droid Bionic running Android 2.3.3 myself. In my completely unscientific testing (playing with friends' Android phones) I notice slightly better performance on my Bionic, but it's hard to tell if that's not simply wishful thinking.

The fact that the difference is so slight tends to make me agree with Bell: that multi-core benefits are negligible, and the impact on battery life might make multiple cores more of a liability than an even slight advantage. That’s been addressed somewhat with Motorola’s Droid Razr and Droid Razr Maxx handsets. Still, Intel didn’t lay the blame solely at Android’s feet. “I think – frankly – some of this work could be done by the vendors who create the SoCs [systems on a chip], but they just haven’t bothered to do it,” he said. In other words, it’s up to hardware makers and mobile application developers to make sure apps and devices are optimized for multithreading. Bell also said that Intel was “putting a lot of investment” into software fixes that would make potential multi-core Atom mobile processors more effective in the future.


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