Quad Core Processors On Android SmartPhones – Are They Really Necessary?

Big news today is that Samsung, the world leader in mobile phones has announced that the next Galaxy phone will run on its brand new “system on a chip” known as the Samsung Exynos 4 Quad. And yes, you guessed it right. It’s a quad core chip with 4 x 1.4 GHz processing cores. It was revealed to the worldwide press and you can find the related news in this Android website.

Technically speaking, it has four ARM Cortex A9 MPcores and also likely to be giving companionship, is the extremely powerful Mali400MP4 Quad core GPU. Samsung says its S-O-Chip is more powerful and consumes about 20% less power than the earlier one.

Samsung Exynos 4 Quad

Well, enough of the tech-talk. Let us consider the consumer point of view. The first major Quad Core Android Smartphone was the Tegra 3 based HTC One X. So, it sounds obvious that Samsung wants to match the spec in order to compete with HTC on feature parity, and hence the Exynos 4. But even if HTC had not brought out the quad core phone, Samsung would have definitely rolled out Exynos 4 Quad. But why? Is it really necessary on a Smartphone? Does the Android market even have at least dual core optimized apps? I don’t really know for sure!

First of all, let’s consider the average use cases of a daily Smartphone. You browse the web; check some mails, probably casual gaming, and some internet services like Facebook, twitter and what not. For all these tasks, a single core processor would be enough for single tasking and maximum a dual core processor with a huge amount of RAM if you wish to do all these things together. So, do you really see a use case for a quad core processor here? I honestly can’t see a use case, but, but why did they have to put a Quad core processor in the Exynos 4 Quad. Competition alone is not a reason, I want to believe.

Tech mode = ON

Quoting Chris Ziegler’s tweet which quotes another source:

”To quote an ARM exec I spoke to at MWC: “this year, my phone will be quad-core A9. next year, it’ll be dual-core A15.”

It speaks large volumes about the technology that is going to arrive in the coming years. So, the main take away from that tweet, you ask? Quad core doesn’t necessarily mean more power and the future is kind of different, if you ask me.

Let me explain this. For example, take the x86 based Intel processors. A single core Atom running at 1.6 GHz is easily more powerful (in terms of raw throughput) than the Quad Core A9 processor, mainly because of the core architectural difference. We are no AnandTech, but I do know enough to tell you that more cores =/= more power all the time. So, what the ARM guy says is, the A15 architecture based dual core processor would be more powerful than the current A9 processors, whatever the number of cores may be. At least that’s what I believe he intended to say.

Also, these days, SmartPhones don’t necessarily depend just on the CPU for processing even some basic tasks. Yes, the GPU and various other chips other than the CPU are important enough to do specific tasks like rendering pixels on the display (which is the most important part of a touch screen device and the point of interaction). And of course, gaming is an extremely likely use case, in which the more powerful GPUs will blaze through console quality games.


Some of the main CPU horsepower demanding situations would be the internet browser which loads heavy web pages, and probably very few applications which use up more CPU than you can imagine. But I would call out the developers for not optimizing their app instead.

So, coming back to the point, if the SoC has a powerful enough GPU, would it still need a quad core processor? Probably not, and I can assure you that you won’t miss out much on a powerful dual core processor based Smartphone, which is like the gold standard these days in terms of power.

So, as of now, we have found no use cases for a quad core Smartphone, but there is a very important aspect that we always miss while talking about extreme technology is, the possibility it adds for extreme innovation. Like the ASUS PadFone for example, remember the article in which we talked about convertible Android tablets?

Yes, that. I would say that a device like the PadFone would need a quad core processor in its innards because it needs to power a tablet as well a laptop sized device when docked into whichever accessory required. So, when it docks into a laptop, you obviously get a bigger screen and the GPU pushes more pixels with more help from the CPU. You load bigger web pages, play games in higher resolution and probably do even some productive things like intensive word processing or even run Photoshop!

Get this, if your PadFone kind of device has a powerful enough Quad core processor, you can probably even edit some HD video, while watching HD videos on YouTube. Who wouldn’t like that? Obviously, you wouldn’t do the above things on a phone, but the intriguing aspect of your phone becoming your only computing device makes very good sense, right?

But does that mean the HTC One X or the upcoming Galaxy phone are powerful enough to do such stuff? May be or may be not. But, there is a reason to believe (the A15 quote by Ziegler) that the current crop of quad core SoCs are just a marketing gimmick before the really powerful ones arrive. Who knows?

So…. quad core Android SmartPhones, are they really necessary at this point? No. But in the future, would it be necessary? Yes, considering the case that the Smartphone becomes your only computing device.

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