Quad-core vs octa-core: does Android and apps use all the cores?

Quad-core vs octa-core: does Android and apps use all the cores?
Smartphones have quickly gone from offering single-core chips to dual-, quad-, and now it seems that the Asian market is driving Android chip makers towards octa- and even deca-core solutions.

A recurring question regarding all those multiple cores is whether and how is the Android operating system and various apps making use of the multi-core designs. The debate gets especially heated when we start comparing Apple's dual-core chips (that use much larger cores, rather than the small cores used in most Android chips), and when emotions get involved, you'd see accusations of all sorts in the discussions.

An interesting test conducted by Android Authority aims to shine light on the issue of how well are Android and its apps using multi-core designs, and answers one simple question: do cores in multi-core chips remain idle for significant periods of time, so much as to render them useless?

The answer is a resounding no, as we can see some of the most popular apps out there scale their core usage depending on the architecture. What this means in simpler terms is that a quad-core phone will spread the load to all of its four cores, and an octa-core phone will also spread the load over all eight cores. This answers the obvious question that one might have whether apps are hard-coded to use only four cores rendering all remaining cores in, say, an octa-core design useless.

You can see the test right below that proves the point across some popular apps including Chrome, YouTube, TempleRun 2, and Riptide GP2.


And with all of this in mind, look at the stark contrast that the same test yields when you have an octa-core phone running AnTuTu:


Obviously, there is a huge difference between the typical load in even well-optimized apps (and make no mistake that Chrome, YouTube, and Gmail have been meticulously optimized to run great on multi-core setups), and AnTuTu. The synthetic benchmark features a very atypical load that cannot be observed in basically no real-world app to measure a phone's performance, and heavily favors multi-core designs. We have seen multiple times little known phones from China with octa- and deca-cores promise the world in AnTuTu, but we can now clearly see how atypical the load on this benchmark is and how little it has in common with the typical way Android apps utilize those multiple cores.

Note that this test in no way provides a comparison between dual-core designs such as the one in the Apple A series of chips, and the trendy octa-core designs on Android - it just shows that Android does not leave cores idling for significant periods of time, but rather spreads load across all of the cores. This test also does not provide the answer to which one is the more power-efficient/performance-boosting approach: the dual-core Apple-esque one, or the multi-core Android one.

For those interested more in this topic, we recommend you to also take a look at the discussion around this post over on Cyanogenmod's Francois Simmond Google Plus account (the second link in the source list).

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56 Comments

88. WallStreet

Posts: 256; Member since: Sep 21, 2014

PA thanks a lot for this topic. Too bad you didn't manage to give a clear answer, but I guess the comparison of various processors is more complex. I think that we can't solely look at benchmarks. I am especially interested in how would the new mid-range 615 octa-core processor fare up against the bit outdated high-end 801 quad-core.

82. ConcreteSox

Posts: 1; Member since: May 26, 2015

Why dont you just go design a new solution, instead of wastin time commenting?

47. skymitch89

Posts: 1453; Member since: Nov 05, 2010

I was under the assumption that octa-core processors were built using the big.LITTLE design where there were 4 low power cores for "normal processing" such as running basic processes like the texting & email apps; and then 4 high power cores that would come on when more power was needed for video processing or gaming or something like that.

46. Nick1119

Posts: 14; Member since: Sep 21, 2014

Funny how websites and commenters pretend they know more than the phone engineers. lol.

53. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

Well they are all engineers that chose different routes to accomplish the same thing. They just choose to either go dual, quad, or octacores. These engineers obviously have their preferences but generally it's all trivial because a phone OS is pretty weak sauce compared to a computer OS. Otherwise we would all be running full Windows 8.1 on our phones instead of Android and IOS. That's just logic and you don't need to be an engineer to know that. But then you have Bobby buster and miket wanna be engineers here that insist they know better than the engineers that go the quad core and octa core routes thanks to some Apple koolaid. I am just saying it's all the same s**t and just different ways of getting to the same destination when it comes to mobile products and I don't need to be an engineer to piece that together. They should be engineers before declaring single core performance is king. If that is the case, why even have dual core? Just go single core and have one super powerful core.

40. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

The bottom line is that a Qualcomm 400 can open a dialer app instantly. Only in gaming really would you need powerful dual cores or quadcores. So if the ifans want to insist that quad cores and octacores are useless most of the time, they have to concede that powerful dual cores are also a waste most of the time. Since if a Qualcomm 400 can do most tasks just as fast and fluid, the rest is just wasting battery. Only in gaming are powerful dual cores and quad cores needed so they are both overkill for most tasks. Saying that single core is more important only applies if most apps require more than a Qualcomm 400 to open instantly and fluidly. I highly doubt that and people need to stop drinking the Apple koolaid.

24. carlemillward unregistered

4 cores is better than 8. I prefer 805 layout than 810.

36. Macready

Posts: 1832; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Both have 8 cores and both support HMP (running 8 cores at the same time).

42. WallStreetWolf

Posts: 289; Member since: Apr 08, 2013

The 805 is a quad-core SOC.

17. Galaxy_Apple

Posts: 129; Member since: May 24, 2015

on a phone the type of tasks aren't really CPU heavy , the GPU plays a much bigger role for app performance and perceived Frame per second of the software elements the point is most android phones have actually only 4 real cores the rest are junk cores used to save battery but don't really affect performance much. even worse 4 cores vary based on the type of ARM architechture such as A57 , A53 etc.... the misconception about Speed starts from stupid geek bench and Antutu , which are the cancers of the smartphone world. real world app performance is more important than stupid benchmarks to show off your scores to others. think Intel vs AMD , intel has better and bigger cores while AMD has stupid 8 cores that offer no real benefit over a quad core.

37. Macready

Posts: 1832; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Nonsense. All that power is really useful in games and such (processing large amounts of data in general, decoding/encoding etc.) to begin with. And guess what, in demanding games, all 8 cores are usually active.

14. androiphone20

Posts: 1654; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

A mobile device is a i/o device. It's the GPUs that do most of the work. With a single user and strong constraints on power consumption, Dual core (one controlling the general interface, one controlling the logic of the the apps in compute state) is enough. As well as separate chips to do the dirty work of all the other contextual interrupts (networking, motion,sound), it makes sense to focus on efficiency of fewer cores.

13. androiphone20

Posts: 1654; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

A mobile device is a i/o device. It's the GPUs that do most of the work. With a single user and strong constraints on power consumption, Dual core (one controlling the general interface, one controlling the logic of the the apps in compute state) is enough. As well as separate chips to do the dirty work of all the other contextual interrupts (networking, motion,sound), it makes sense to focus on efficiency of fewer cores.

15. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

You are (almost) right. But Android needs so many cores to compensate the Kernel's and Framework's shortcoming.

35. Macready

Posts: 1832; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

No it doesn't, see K1.

86. vincelongman

Posts: 5832; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

I love your logic Multicore performance is unless, it doesn't work! Android is unless, it needs multicore to work!

2. vincelongman

Posts: 5832; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

If you're wondering why the games are using multi-cores worse its due to OpenGL ES OpenGL ES is not a low level Graphic API, it doesn't handle multi-cores well But luckily its being replaced by the Vulkan API Vulkan is a low level Graphics API based on AMD's Mantle API (released in 2013) with lots of input from major companies, including Apple ironically (probably has lots of code from Metal)

3. vincelongman

Posts: 5832; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

For Apple users Mac OS X currently uses OpenGL and OpenGL ES Its highly likely Apple are bringing Vulkan to Mac OS X in the next version iOS currently uses Metal for newer phones (A7 and newer), and OpenGL ES for older phones I'm not sure what's gonna happen with Metal and iOS 9

4. vincelongman

Posts: 5832; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

For Android users Android M will probably bring Vulkan support But hardware support might be a problem due to Qualcomm Khronos Group (the group behind Vulkan, OpenCL, OpenGL, ...) say that Vulkan will work on any hardware that supports OpenGL ES 3.1 (they haven't said anything about earlier ES versions) Qualcomm only started supporting 3.1 with their 4xx series Adrenos (2014) While ARM's Mali started in 2012 and IT's PowerVR started in 2013

7. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

When will Vulkan arrive at Android if at all? And then, when will the consumers get the updates if at all? And, most importantly, when will the devs utilize it if at all? Never. Forget it. Fragmentation hurts

9. iushnt

Posts: 3185; Member since: Feb 06, 2013

Ok Ok.. Apple is best!! Happy??

49. Simona unregistered

worst

22. bendgate unregistered

Only thing fragmented around here is your brain.

8. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

nVidia is saying "no" to AMD's techs like HSA and Vulkan. And since nVidia is currently a member of Android alliance, we won't see Vulkan any time soon - if at all. And Apple doesn't need Vulkan since Metal serves the same purpose.

11. gaming64 unregistered

Sh!t yeah you are right. Why does iOS still need Vulcan when there already is Metal? You just defied logic.

12. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

I clearly said Apple that doesn't need Vulkan. What's your problem?

16. vincelongman

Posts: 5832; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Google won't care what Nvidia think Vulkan is not an AMD product, its from Khronos, an industry group Its based of AMD's Mantle, but has lots of input from others Nvidia are using OpenGL ES for their Android devices So its only logical the use Vulkan, which its successor Especially since they are helping develop Vulkan This is from the Kronos websitehttps://www.khronos.org/assets/uploads/apis/2015-vk-image-5.png The reason Nvidia aren't supporting HSA, is because they don't want people to stop use their Cuda technology So can you please try again? Why would Nvidia try stop Android from using something their helping develop? Apple do need Vulkan Mac OS X's gaming performance and support is completely terrible Adopting Vulkan for iOS will help Vulkan take off Which help their Mac OS X's gaming performance and support

18. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

Apple would rather extend Metal to OSX than adopting Vulkan. It's obvious. Google didn't even succeed in establishing Renderscript due to conflicts among GPU vendors. Chances are extremely slim for Vulkan for the very same reasons. Fragmentation hurts.

20. vincelongman

Posts: 5832; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Google have always added support for new versions of OpenGL ES I don't see why they won't support Vulkan (OpenGL ES's successor) RenderScript is partly dead because HSA is coming And since OpenCL has been improving Why are Apple helping develop Vulkan?https://www.khronos.org/assets/uploads/apis/2015-vk-image-5.png Aren't the helping the "enemy"? No, its because they need Vulkan I'm calling it now iOS 9 or 10 will support Vulkan (or maybe 11 if Vulkan gets delayed) I like how you're silent on Nvidia now

21. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

Apple is one of Khronos' biggest supporters. It's just a routine job. Apple doesn't need Vulkan. Apropos nVidia. The case of Renderscript was enough, wasn't it?

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