What can dual-core do for you: a course refresher what the A5 chip will bring to the Apple iPhone 4S

What can dual-core do for you: a course refresher what the A5 chip will bring to the Apple iPhone 4S
UPDATE: Apple just announced the iPad 2's dual-core A5 chip going into the newest iPhone 4S as well. If you are a current iPhone 4 owner, that would be the sole main reason to get the latest edition. Thus, we are reposting our article on the advantages of multicore platforms below, in order to gauge the possibilities this SoC brings to the fifth generation of the acclaimed handset from Cupertino. Besides the obvious 1080p Full HD video recording advantage, Apple also announced Infinity Blade 2, which will be optimized for the iPhone 4S, and also a beta of Siri, the voice command assistant, whose integration wouldn't be possible without the A5. And that's just a start...

Ask not for a dual-core gadget, ask what dual-core can do for you” is the way we would rephrase Kennedy's famous saying. Should we feel left in the dust next time someone flaunts their extra CPU core in our face, like in the case of the iPhone 4S, or can we live a long happy life with a single-core gadget, like the iPhone 4? We'll try to answer that question now that the first dual-core smartphones and tablets are lined up on the retail shelves, next to The Flash superhero comics.

We won't bother you with the technical details behind dual-core chipsets, we've written a separate article on that, if you want to know more. We'd rather point out that in this very moment you can get as much slick user interface and apps, high-definition video recording, and fast browsing from a WP7 handset, for example, with its two-year old single core 65nm processor, as from the first dual-core phones, whose chipsets are produced with the 45nm ARM Cortex-A9 design.

The typical user wouldn’t even notice that their brand new WP7 phone is sporting 2009 tech, since the platform is optimized for this exact CPU, and because of that, it runs faster and smoother than even some Android overlays powered by two Cortex-A9 cores. Not to mention how oily iOS and adjacent apps move on the iPhone 4, for instance, whose silicon is circa 2010.

To quote James Bruce, the lead mobile strategist of ARM: "Badly designed software will overcome quality hardware", and we couldn’t agree more. Only when the mobile operating systems and their applications are designed for multiple cores are we to see tangible benefits in the UI and app performance. So why are these guys waving their chipsets at us?

For now, the two visible advantages of having a dual-core CPU in your phone or tablet – Full HD 1080p video recording, and faster webpage rendering - are not on the top of everyone's list when choosing a phone, but they do hint at the possibilities that multicore chipsets are enabling.

Being able to shoot detailed video in 1080p does seem like the next step in the cell phone imaging evolution, however, especially when looking at handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Sensation 4G, which are capable of recording smooth 30fps 1080p video. Not to mention the 3D stereoscopic capturing that dual-core makes possible on handsets like the LG Optimus 3D, or the HTC EVO 3D.

Another area where dual-core shines is browsing. NVIDIA explains the page loading and script rendering speed phenomenon with dual-core very well in its Tegra 2 white papers. While most applications are written for single core processors, Android’s current WebKit-based browser is coded to take advantage of more cores, if available. With one CPU only, it is “slicing” its productive cycles – fetches the page, for example, then hits something like a Flash animation, processes the animation, then goes back to rendering the text, pictures and the rest of the website, until it hits the next thing, like JavaScript, which slows loading times.

Dual-core phones keep rendering the page with one core, while the other is executing a script, speeding pageloading and overall performance times significantly. ARM-based chipsets are also capable of what Intel calls HUGI (Hurry Up and Get Idle), boosting the cores when something needs to be executed quickly, then efficiently throttling down speed to preserve power.

Moreover, we can rest the case with Adobe Flash and performance with the dual-core chipsets – if decently coded, one can browse most heavily Flash-ed pages without a hiccup, making Apple all the more stubborn not to include support for it in its mobile browser. We can turn it off in Android, but with any dual-core phone you never need to. All in all, the browsing experience itself is worth getting a dual-core phone.

And now we come to the Achilles heel of dual-core phones and tablets – software support. The multicore optimization of Android Honeycomb will come to phones with Android Ice Cream Sandwich later this year, and Apple will have measures for taking true advantage of the A5 chipset in iOS. Apps, however, that are written from the ground-up for dual-core mobile chipsets, are few and far between - you probably have enough fingers on you to count them all both for Android, and iOS. As you can guess, they are mostly games, where CPU/GPU power matters most.

Great Battles Medieval has become the poster child when it comes to demoing how two or more cores are better than one on Android. As a real-time strategy game, it allows for hundreds of beautifully-rendered warriors to enter battle at once on your screen, complexity that would be impossible on single-core chipsets.

Apple’s iPad 2 has more apps optimized for the A5 chip to show for it. The iPad 2-optimized versions of Dead Space HD and Infinity Blade, as well as racers like Asphalt 6: Adrenaline HD, are boasting visual and gameplay enhancements that are only working with the new chip in the iPad 2. We also have A5-requiring versions of apps like iMovie, for example, which have been optimized to distribute the load between the cores, allowing for faster multitrack audio editing, and stitching videos without a hiccup. The deep voice-recognition integration called Siri in the new iPhone 4S also wouldn't be possible without the computational prowess of the dual-core A5:

Apple dedicated a special attention at its iPhone 4S presentation to Infinity Blade's sequel, Infinity Blade 2, which is about to hit the App Store December 1, and said it has "visuals you've never seen on a mobile device". Hopefully it is a harbinger of things to come for the iPhone 4S and future multicore iPhones.

As for battery life, contrary to urban myths, we aren’t observing degraded metrics. Android phones with suboptimal power management barely make the workday even with single-core chipsets. Phones with well thought-out power management perform better than average, dual-core might and all. The Samsung Galaxy S II allowed us 62 hours between recharges with normal usage, running the often chastised in that respect Android, and that’s without the recent firmware update. Apple also cites battery life on the iPhone 4S that is the same as on the iPhone 4, despite the A5 monster inside, so the juicing shouldn't be a cause for concern.

Coming back to our imaginary friend waving their dual-core gadget in our face – do they have bragging rights? Yes, be it only for the gain in browser performance and the Full HD video capture. Is dual-core a staple necessity? Not until more quality software gets developed with multicore in mind from the onset.

What do you think, will Apple manage to squeeze the maximum out of its dual-core A5 on the iPhone 4S better than Android in terms of software to take advantage of it? 



36. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

Wait so is Siri assistant only available on the 4S and not the 4?

38. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

yes, you have to get the 4s to get siri. dont worry, you still get the snail mail postcard feature.. lolol

33. america123jeff

Posts: 36; Member since: Apr 14, 2011

I can't believe it. Apple fanboys and Android fanboys are BOTH wrong and they are both RIGHT! Android copied Apple...at first. Then Android evolved and changed and became better for tech savey phone users. Apple basically remainded the same while still upgrading the hardware and becoming better for less tech savey people. Both types of phones are great and no one is copying the other (maybe a little). But they are both two toatally different types of phones. Each one good for its own market!

32. rayjones09

Posts: 149; Member since: Dec 16, 2010

I'll be content with my single core phone. Web browsing is cool but I'm pretty much never in the situation where I NEED to have super fast web browsing while mobile. It's cool to have but unnecessary. The wifi speeds I get on my iPod touch are good enough and this thing isn't even 600 MHz. I'm good.

26. ed unregistered

i believe there will be need for this in futrure....what we need is a stable safe os...it always comes down the OS...we need dual core battery.. most android dual core phone are still laggy and sluggish... my hd7 is way faster than the lg revolution..its all about the OS.............

25. ed unregistered


22. Su-Rio

Posts: 51; Member since: May 05, 2011

using an ipod touch 2g for internet everywhere i go with wifi, i have no problem with no flash support... therefore, i have no problem if i get a single core, 800mhz snapdragon 2nd gen. processor froyo-powered phone in a few months... (with adobe flash turned off)

24. rich unregistered

Why on Earth would u turn off flash????? stop using ur ipod, its tainting ur views my droid device flys online with flash. single core froyo

21. Samot9

Posts: 18; Member since: Dec 02, 2009

Lets put it this way, if your getting a new phone it would be wise to do the duel core because of the long term upgradeablity. (rooting)

17. snowgator

Posts: 3629; Member since: Jan 19, 2011

Dual core on Android powered phones makes sense as the next upgrade past Gingerbread will be optimized for dual core. I wouldn't worry about "falling behind" if you are interested in Windows powered devices, Blackberry 1.2 single core, the Pre3 WeBOS 1.4, or (gasp) the next iPhone offering- they will be optimized for those processors. Actually, there are some really good single core Android devices (infuse, Inspire, T-Bolt) which will be real nicely priced in a few months and still give great speeds- just not premium upgrade possabilities over two years.

18. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

If you have Gingerbread, isn't it dual-core 'aware'?

29. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

it knows its there, but unless scripts are actually written to take advantage of the dual core chip, it will operate on a single core.

16. JaySVX555 unregistered

I tend to keep my phones a while so I'll be looking to a dual core phone as my next purchase. My reasoning is that over the next couple years the apps to take advantage of the hardware will follow with more widespread adoption of said hardware. It does tend to go both ways but generally the software available will use up whatever resources you can throw at it, at least eventually.

14. skymitch89

Posts: 1453; Member since: Nov 05, 2010

Until cell phones can record with the same HD quality as some of the actual digital cameras out there, I'll be just fine with the 720p on my Evo Shift.

28. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

your the same type of person that said that when it was just a VGA camera, werent ya? lol

13. luis_lopez_351

Posts: 951; Member since: Nov 18, 2010

Whats with all the power??? Obviously people need to stop playing games on their Andtoys

11. WirelessCon

Posts: 311; Member since: May 11, 2010

I can care less about apps; browsing, calling, video, and photography define my phone use.

19. alien45

Posts: 3; Member since: Jun 02, 2011

Probably u just keep ur phone in the show case????

30. haroon unregistered

perhaps, you forgot to notice the semi colon there. I did too and had to read three times to understand what he meant. All he is saying is he doesnt care about apps but everything else that he mentioned are important for him

7. bucky

Posts: 3797; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

I came from an overclocked desire z and i noticed a good difference moving up to my atrix. Then, i sold the atrix and moved up to an sgs2 and the difference is immense. Well worth it. The phone simply does not slowdown...EVER.

6. Dannyjayfuller unregistered

Definitely wanting a dual-core. I'm an android addict and a gamer, who also uses their phone for (SHOCK!)basic phone functions, so everything about dual-core, the battery life especially, appeals heavily to me. The Galaxy S2 has me drooling, but I'll probably go for the EVO 3D since it's the only dual-core on Sprint within my time window for jumping ship from T-Mo.

37. GG unregistered

Galaxy s2 has a battery life issue. even with root n stuff. and i also noticed processor heating problem on heavy gaming.

5. Chuck222 unregistered

The survey answers are designed so that the third answer is the only one you are to pick: "I might look into getting a dual-core device when developers finally get it together, and release swarms of multicore-optimized apps." The first two answers are designed to make you sound like an idiot if you pick them. PA, stop doing surveys when you don't want to hear the answers.

12. cc16177

Posts: 312; Member since: May 09, 2010

I picked option one...

3. seeds

Posts: 48; Member since: Apr 13, 2011

i will wait heavy optimized apps for single core, or dual core 2nd generation... but now i'm wanna buy sensation LOL *i just courious with new sense hahaha

2. jplayer01

Posts: 3; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Completely satisfied with the 'dated' 65nm single-core CPU in my WP7 phone. Faster browsing would be nice, sure, but I'm sure Mango (and IE9) will deliver better performance and ... well, I'm not going to get a new phone for a while. Expensive little buggers. :/

1. Bob unregistered

Apps make the smartphone so I'll wait for the true dual core beast. I think it'll take a year more for that. Till then I don't mind using a FroYo based single core device.

4. Bob2 unregistered

Wait for the true dual core beast? It's gonna be a never ending wait. Once you think you've got the perfect phone of the year with breaking benchmarks and battery life, 2ghz dual core, 1 month after release some random company will taunt you with quad cores that doubles that performance with an estimated 6 months release date or so...

8. Dark4o90

Posts: 205; Member since: Feb 20, 2011

intel is coming with Kal El

9. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

intel? you mean Nvidia. The Kal El is the quad core revision of the tegra2. i guess they will call it a tegra4? lol. right behind that will be sammy with the exynos quad core next year probably. If your always waiting for the next great thing, you will always be waiting as its always changing. Just grab what is great at the time you need a new phone and dont worry about 3 months from now.

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