I had a chat last week with a customer hell-bent on CPU cores and all I was hearing was “Octa” this “Quad” that and how rugged PDA’s are rubbish because they score lower in benchmark tests than smartphones and they all have less cores too.  I didn’t get the chance to explain to that person why Graphics (Which give a smartphone it’s exceptional benchmark scores) and CPU cores aren’t all they’re cracked up to be but it did make me wonder just how many people really understand what multi-core CPU chips bring to the tabled.  So here we go!

Clock Speed

First of all let’s dispel a few myths about multi-core CPU’s.  Clock speed is still one of the big assets any chip or core within that chip can have but you’ll see that the more cores, the lower the general clock speed is of each core.  For example, lets take the latest Note 4 from Samsung.  This runs either the fabulous Snapdragon 805 quad core CPU running at 2.7GHz per core.  Or you can spec it with the new Octa-core running 4 cores at 1.9GHz and 4 cores at 1.3GHz respectively.

You might instantly think that the 8 core version is a better choice simply on the fact that it has 8 cores opposed to the 4 but it isn’t that straight forward.

Clock speed will still be the biggest dictator in many scenarios making the quad core chip the better choice in this instance.

More cores good

The idea of having more cores is so your mobile device can run more apps in a more separate manner.  So for instance if you’re streaming a video on your device and the Virus checker is scheduled to kick off mid movie, if there’s an extra core lying about doing nothing then it can use that and the theory is that because a completely separate core is being used, your movie won’t suffer at all. They run completely separately form each other.

having more cores in 1 chip also has other benefits.  Because a lot of the architecture is shared between the cores, this means that the chips are smaller in size and in turn less power hungry too, all good for a mobile device.  Some chips are also built in a way where the shared resources each core needs are able to reduce latency in communication due to the way they’re built.

less cores better!

However if you have a dual or quad core chip with each core running at double the speed then this chip will inherently run a single application better.  It’s simple really, the better the clock speed, the more powerful the chip is when it comes to 1 simple task.

OS and programming features

It’s not quite that simple though as we also now have to throw in Operating systems and application design.  Newer OS’s like Android Lollipop are built to handle multi-core devices much better so they inherently work better with more cores and this can have an overall affect on device performance. Applications must also be written specifically to take advantage of multiple cores and whilst video, games and 3D design houses might have gotten to grips with that, does your Warehouse app do the same?

General device architecture also plays a part too in just how powerful a mobile device is.  RAM is also a big player in the capability of a device, the more the better.  The type of RAM and ROM in the device can also affect the speed as can having extra video co-processors that are far more suited to handling 3D rendering and streaming video.

Also the size and number of pixels the screen can have will also affect just how much work the device’s CPU has to do to get everything displayed right for us users.  Lots of pixels need lots of power to drive them efficiently.

The rugged PDA or Rugged smartphone

So just what does all of this mean to us and what’s the lesson here?

Rugged kit typically runs a little behind the shiny stuff when it comes to spec, however when it comes down to what’s going to run your business mobile solution, the number of cores the CPU chip isn’t all you think it might be.

If you’re going to be letting users use the devices more openly, where multi-tasking is going to be a big issue then the more cores are possibly the better option.  However if you;re going to be locking the device down to do a few simple tasks or the device is simply being used for 1 app and as a communication device then the argument gets thin and a dual or even single architecture can be the answer.

There’s no doubt about it, the mobile device war is just getting hotter and hotter and a symptom of that is innovation. But innovation for innovations sake isn’t always the answer for us business and enterprise folks.


About The Author

Dave's one of the founders of Raptor, his rants are memorable, his thoughts are stimulating and his heart is set on helping, entertaining and making things like mobile, Android, ruggedness, 3D printing and IOT simple.

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