Web browsing may seem less intensive than gaming, but it will also be significantly improved on multicore mobile gadgets, says Linley Gewnnap, principal analyst at microprocessor analysts the Linley Group. “Even the basic rendering of an html page can take several seconds,” he says. “Dual-core processors will better be able to keep up with the speed at which wireless networks can download pages.” Processing a Web page for display also involves handling many different components of a page at once. Nvidia reports that its Tegra 2 processor can load Web pages at least twice as fast as a processor of the same type with a single core.
While running flat out a dual core chip can use a lot of energy compared to a single core version, they can work more efficiently for many tasks. A single core chip working flat out uses 40 percent more energy than a Tegra 2 chip with two cores each running at half speed, says NVIDIA.
In future, dual-core mobile processors will help handheld devices display content in 3-D, following in the footsteps of Nintendo’s 3DS, says Robert Thompson, director of smart mobile devices at Freescale Semiconductor, whose dual-core processors will soon appear in tablet computers.
“3-D is filtering down quickly into tablets, and for 3-D graphics to be detailed or even high-definition, a single core probably won’t be enough,” says Thompson. Freescale has created a mobile processor with four cores aimed at tablets, as has rival Marvell, although no products featuring either of them is yet available.
All the same, tablets and phones with dual-core chips won’t be used to their full potential for six to nine months. Thompson says it will take this long for mobile apps and operating systems to be properly tweaked to take full advantage of multicore chips. Software needs to be redesigned to instruct a chip to process instructions in parallel, not sequentially, as mobile processors have done up to now.
Recent versions of Google’s Android operating system can use multiple cores, and Nvidia and other chip makers have been working with game and app developers to get their software ready for the launch of dual-core handheld gadgets.
Such efforts will help, says Gwenapp, as will the fact that many developers have experience of multicore programming from desktop machines. But it is still likely that early adopters of dual-core phones and tablets won’t find huge improvements to most apps. “Without the app software, you don’t see the improvement,” he says. “There has to be some time for all the software guys to accommodate.”