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

1. galanoth

Posts: 428; Member since: Nov 26, 2011

And people still say Android apps only use 2 cores at most.

5. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

Did you read the original article at AA? It's both informative and misleading at the same time. The author chose wrong apps for testing purpose: they are all extremely system dependent, ie most of the computations is done by the system routines like video decoding, webkit and so on while the codes that came with the apps hardly do anything more than calling the system routines. And these system routines are mostly written by the SoC vendors themselves, in a way that the workloads are evenly distributed by manually splitting and assigning the data to process. He should have chosen apps that do lots of things on their own without much system function calls like pattern recognition. He would have then found out that the number of cores doesn't matter much if at all. For that matter, the article is rather useless. However, he's right in saying that the multicore configuration is about power efficiency and NOT about performance. And since the apps' own routines don't scale well with the number of cores, single core performance is the most important thing for responsiveness and fluidity. That's where iPhone remains unmatched.

6. JAPANESEPATRIOT

Posts: 65; Member since: May 26, 2015

iPhone is the second best - after Sony

10. gaming64 unregistered

phoneArena prepare an excorcism for this demon. He must be cleanse from this site

19. vincelongman

Posts: 5696; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Many if you had an Android device you would know this article is accurate Just download a cpu monitoring app and it will show basically every app uses multiple cores when needed The Nexus 6 is always has 4 fours active Multicore configuration is also for power efficiency Multicore configuration allow for the same performance with smaller, less power hungry cores Those cores turn on and off when needed

26. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

If you ever wrote CPU intensive routines on your own, you wouldn't talk so much nonsense. Write 32k 16bit FFT for example, and be amazed that the whole thing runs on a single core.

31. vincelongman

Posts: 5696; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Well, thank you Google and SoC OEMs for doing the impossible!

30. jove39

Posts: 2146; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

"Multicore configuration allow for the same performance with smaller, less power hungry cores" Nope...it does not...this myth has been busted by anandtech in past - read this article (page 6) -http://www.anandtech.com/show/8718/the-samsung-galaxy-note-4-exynos-review/6

32. vincelongman

Posts: 5696; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

From that, its says 1 A57 core uses a max of about 2W Meanwhile 1 Cyclone core uses a max about 5W From AnandTech iPad Air review (they didn't do a power consumption test for the A8, it's probably similar) the dual core A7 uses a max of almost 12W, so I said about 5W since 20nm will reduce its power consumptionhttp://www.anandtech.com/show/7460/apple-ipad-air-review/3 I was talking about each core Total power consumption more debatable And overall efficiency is very debatable But power efficiency is an aim of multicore configs Whether it works is a different matter Especially when comporing, dual cores and quad cores since they are all multicores

83. Pulkit1990

Posts: 46; Member since: May 08, 2014

12 W? are you high . A8 has a capped TDP of 1.54W Remember they halved the TDP with A8 vs A7.

84. vincelongman

Posts: 5696; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Source?

87. vincelongman

Posts: 5696; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

By the way I said power consumption Not heat output (such as TDP)

33. Macready

Posts: 1824; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Yet it's slower in daily use than quite a few octacore phones (loading, unloading, reloading apps, menus and pages), even with up to almost 4 times less pixels to push. What some perceive as fluidity, is a stronger focus on transitions/animations during loading in iOS, even at the cost of user input during those animations (where Android still records input).

39. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

Lol single core performance is not the most important thing for responsiveness and fluidity. That's a load of crock construct Apple invented to brainwash their fans. Crap low powered cores are enough to run most processes so it really doesn't matter. In fact, all a more powerful single core does is waste battery. The power from a single core is wasted until an intensive process anyways and that's when the quad core would kick in anyways so it's the same s**t,must a different less efficient way of getting there for the iPhone.

23. Galaxy_Apple

Posts: 129; Member since: May 24, 2015

SOC performance is divided into 3 parts i) single core speed for javascript web performance which is still single core only unfortunately and simple apps like Dialer, messaging Facebook whatsapp etc. ii)GPU speed for graphics rendering and Hardware acceleration of UI elements like scrolling , pinch zoom ,thumbnail rendering etc iii) multi-core speed for intensive apps like camera , image editing etc... on a phone they are very few tasks that makes all 8 cores work at full speed , thats the point of this article and they didn't explain it. as time goes by I feel the GPU will become far more important than the CPU, this is what the vision of Nvidia started years ago visual computing will be the future.

34. Macready

Posts: 1824; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

The myth that javascript uses single core only, is getting old in the tooth. Currently, not only is Android (and its Linux kernel) android capable of spreading several tasks from single threaded javascripts over several cores, it can even divide single tasks into several parts to do so. Only benchmarks or scripts that were specifically designed to ignore all other cores, will indeed do the latter. And the only purpose for those is... well... measurebating.

38. waddup121 unregistered

yepppp

48. Simona unregistered

ppl ar stupid

92. DarkLeviathan

Posts: 4; Member since: Dec 19, 2015

And those 4+ cores don't actually have the same processing powers.

2. vincelongman

Posts: 5696; 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: 5696; 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: 5696; 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: 3105; 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: 5696; 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

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