Steady improvements in performance are a given in the computing industry, but sometimes there’s a big leap forward. One occurred in the world of mobile computing last week, when the first smart phones and tablet computers with dual-core processors were unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The show-stealing Xoom tablet from Motorola, and also phones and tablets from Acer, HTC, and LG, all debuted with a new dual-core processor made by chip maker Nvidia. Competing microprocessor companies Marvell and Freescale Semiconductor also make dual-core chips for such devices.
A processor’s core is the crucial component that receives and executes instructions. A single-core processor can execute only one instruction at a time, while a chip with multiple cores can process more instructions at once.
A multicore chip offers advantages over a single-core chip running at a faster speed (measured as frequency). “Running a processor at a higher frequency means increased voltage, greater resistance, and so more heat produced,” explains Matt Wuebbling, a senior product manager working on Nvidia’s new Tegra 2 dual-core processor. The firm, a leading manufacturer of graphics-processing chips (GPUs) for the PC market, has added a scaled-down GPU to the Tegra 2 chip alongside the two processor cores.
“With this chip, games are completely different to what we think of as mobile games with cartoon graphics,” says Wuebbling. “There are realistic smoke and fog effects and light bursts.” Games with much more complex 3-D engines can be accommodated, because the intensive number crunching required can be shared between the processor’s two cores while the GPU turns the output data into graphics, he says.
Verizon Wireless and Nvidia demonstrated the newly announced Acer Iconia tablet with a Tegra 2 chip, playing a 3-D multiplayer game called Dungeon Defenders hosted on an AlienWare gaming laptop. “The game really pops on the tablet thanks to effects like complex reflections and realistic dust,” says Deepak Chadaga, of Verizon’s LTE Innovation Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. “That’s possible because we have dual cores and a GPU.”