Skip Links

Dual-core smartphones on the horizon

Smartphones with dual-core Arm processors could add faster processing, video capabilities

By , IDG News Service
August 12, 2010 05:07 PM ET

IDG News Service - Smartphones are on the verge of becoming more powerful, with chip makers readying dual-core chips that could accelerate multimedia and application performance on handheld devices.

Most smartphones are only capable of 720p video and come with processors touching speeds of around 1GHz, but users are demanding more performance, analysts said. A new generation of dual-core processors could allow users to watch full 1080p high-definition video and run more demanding applications.

Don't Miss! Smartphone free-for-all: BlackBerry Torch vs. Droid 2 vs. Epic 4G

Phone makers haven't officially announced plans to put dual-core chips in smartphones, but the chip makers are getting ready. Qualcomm has already shipped its first dual-core processor, the MSM8660, and is due to start sampling a faster dual-core chip, the QSD8672, later this year. Texas Instruments is scheduled to ship a dual-core chip, the OMAP4430, later this year, and it could reach devices early next year.

People are running demanding applications on smartphones that require more computational power, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst of Insight 64. For example, Apple's FaceTime video-conferencing application demands a lot of performance with multiple video streams and picture-in-picture capabilities. As video images move to higher resolutions and video-calling capabilities reach more smartphones, devices will need faster processors.

Breaking up application execution over two processing cores will allow users to do more with smartphones while preserving battery life, Brookwood said. TI and Qualcomm said smartphones with their new dual-core chips will be able to render Web pages and video faster, and play back 1080p high-definition video.

"This benefit allows for far more concurrency in applications. You've got an additional processor to handle background tasks, running multiple applications or updating multiple web pages simultaneously," said Robert Tolbert , director of product management for the OMAP smart phone business at TI.

An alternative would be to speed up a single-core processor by ratcheting up the clock speed, which could lead to excess heat dissipation and battery drain, Brookwood said. Adding an additional core would be a more power-efficient way to boost chip performance.

"[Processors] typically require more power ... as you increase clock speed. If you keep the frequency lower, you can save enough power to drive two cores at a lower frequency," Brookwood said.

However, a big challenge is to make multiple cores as power efficient as possible without asking the user to pay a penalty in terms of battery consumption, Tolbert said.

"Dual-core doesn't necessarily bring power reduction since you are exercising more silicon area with two processors versus one processor," Tolbert said.

To tackle that issue, TI and Qualcomm are bringing unique power management capabilities to manage processing over multiple cores. The companies are introducing features to dynamically switch cores on and off. For example, depending on the task, one CPU core will be able operate at full speed, while the other could be clocked down to idle.

Our Commenting Policies
Latest News
rssRss Feed
View more Latest News