Intel: Android just isn't ready for multi-core processors

By Lee Kaelin on June 11, 2012, 10:01 AM

Nokia's CEO Stephen Elop recently claimed that dual- and quad-core chips used in modern smartphones were a waste of battery and weren't necessary for performance. Now Intel has waded into the debate, saying that support for dual-core chips on Android is so bad it's actually a detriment.

According to the Inquirer, Mike Bell, the chipmaker's general manager of the Mobile and Communications Group explained that data collected during internal testing suggest Android's thread scheduling just isn't ready to handle multi-core processors. He stated the results showed that even Google's latest Android 4.0 release (Ice Cream Sandwich) on devices with multiple cores offered little benefit and at times was even detrimental to overall performance.

"I've taken a look at the multiple core implementations in the market, and frankly, in a thermal and/or power constrained environment – what has been implemented – it isn't obvious to me you really get the advantage for the size and the cost of what's going into that part," said Bell. "The way it's implemented right now, Android does not make as effective use of multiple cores as it could, and I think – frankly – some of this work could be done by the vendors who create the SoCs, but they just haven’t bothered to do it."

Bell believes chipmakers haven't done enough to optimize Android for dual- and quad-core phones. This despite advertising campaigns promoting such devices as considerably more powerful, in what has almost become a competition to offer the highest number of processing cores for eager consumers.

While Bell didn't point the finger at any particular chip, he did point out that internal testing of Android handsets had shown that chips with multiple cores at times ran slower than single-core implementations.

"If you are in a non-power constrained case, I think multiple cores make a lot of sense because you can run the cores full out, you can actually heavily load them and/or if the operating system has a good thread scheduler. A lot of stuff we are dealing with, thread scheduling and thread affinity, isn't there yet and on top of that, largely when the operating system goes to do a single task, a lot of other stuff stops. So as we move to multiple cores, we're actually putting a lot of investment into software to fix the scheduler and fix the threading so if we do multi-core products it actually takes advantage of it," Bell further commented.




User Comments: 32

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Guest said:

what, any moment now, some techspot viewer will comment like they know more then Intel. Even though I am not an engineer, I have always felt the dual/quad core on a phone is a waste. Before you say "they said that about computers too" let me say yes the did. BUT, when they said it it was true, go back in time when they said that and give them a quad core i7 and see how well they could use it. Not very well I imagine. In the future when smart phones evolve once a again to 3d workstations then yes, quad core could be needed. But as a phone, small web browser, email checker and small game device, single core should be fine (and is, if you look at all windows phones).

Guest said:

I take these comments as a slap in ARM's face. Maybe Mike Bell should clarify his statement a bit and say that Android isn't well suited for running on "Intel" multicore processors. ICS runs extremely well on my quad core TF201, CPU courtesy of ARM. Intel is still playing catchup in the GPU and low-power SOC market. Just more marketing BS from a company that's good at spin and not in results.

Ranger1st Ranger1st said:

don't forget that Intel is creating a 'new' IOS with Samsung.. so of course some back handed talk about the now competitors is warranted, nay expected in this day and age. What the possible truth is, is immaterial to the campaign.

Guest said:

Of course Intel are going to say that the major mobile OS's that run on ARM have shortcomings, because they do. The state of mobile OS's is pretty abysmal no matter which vendor you prefer. But that doesn't mean you should believe all of the spin.

If you want to point fingers though, blame the big telcos who hobble and restrict the software that runs on handsets connected to their networks, like they're a fascist regime. I'm sure Google would love to offer ICS 4.0 to the owners of various recent Motorola devices that have been left out of 4.0 upgrades due to telco bloatware either being incompatible, or not worth the cost to certify. Thus we will have to live with 2.3 being around for a while yet.

I'm sure the Android kernel will evolve and improve over time - Intel implies that "even" ICS 4.0 does not have great scheduling, as if Android 5.0 Cupcake doesn't exist or isn't imminent. But the handset makers aren't blameless when it comes to hobbling and hyping handset specs, and the telcos are the real villains hiding in the shadows.

trparky said:

Bullshit it can't. Maybe that is the case with a lot of the stock kernels that these devices come with but that's only because the stock kernels are nowhere near being as tweaked for performance as the kernels that are compiled by the third-party freelance developers.

My Galaxy Nexus is running iMoseyOn's leanKernel which is a kernel compiled directly from source code and the developer has taken it upon himself to strip the kernel down to just the bare necessities required for the phone to function along with some added tweaks. Take this kernel and compare it to stock and it would be a no contest victory for the leanKernel. The performance difference is that noticeable.

It doesn't help that many of the stock kernels that these devices come with are still largely based upon older 2.x Linux kernel source whereas many of the third-party developers have taken it upon themselves to update their source code and merged in 3.x Linux kernel source.

iMoseyOn's leanKernel is based upon 3.0.34 Linux kernel source.

xplayer xplayer said:

what, any moment now, some techspot viewer will comment like they know more then Intel. Even though I am not an engineer, I have always felt the dual/quad core on a phone is a waste. Before you say "they said that about computers too" let me say yes the did. BUT, when they said it it was true, go back in time when they said that and give them a quad core i7 and see how well they could use it. Not very well I imagine. In the future when smart phones evolve once a again to 3d workstations then yes, quad core could be needed. But as a phone, small web browser, email checker and small game device, single core should be fine (and is, if you look at all windows phones).

I completely agree with you!! you right!! a quad core mobile phones still freezing when some people reviewing it on youtube

Guest said:

Ok Intel,

We got it! Android sucks! Your solution to Android sucking is .... ???

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Well, you know, it's kind of funny how sometimes Intel forgets their own past when they are talking about other products. General computing was not ready for multi-core processing when Intel first hit the market with their products, as most software (including OS platforms) were coded for single-threaded computational platforms. But hey, that didn't stop Intel from pushing their dual (and then quad) core processors out and claiming they were the best thing since sliced bread. And, ya know what? They were! Software caught up to the hardware, was optimized to support - and even encourage - multi-threading, and look at how zippy everything is now on modern PCs.

Does Intel really think that history won't repeat itself again with Android, with software catching up to hardware? Or, is this really more about marketing, and pushing an open platform that is dominated by ARM down, trying to make the more lucrative platforms (like upcoming Win8) look better? Things that make you go "hmmmmmm..."

Chazz said:

You guys should learn to read. Intel said they're gonna work with google to fix Androids shortcomings,like they did with Microsoft so long ago, they in no way said Android sucks or are implying that their new OS is better. They are encouraging other OEMs to offer support to google as well, so they aren't the only one spending resources doing this.

I'd trust Intel for opinions on cpu performance than some random poster on a tech blog.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Or, is this really more about marketing, and pushing an open platform that is dominated by ARM down, trying to make the more lucrative platforms (like upcoming Win8) look better? Things that make you go "hmmmmmm..."
Somehow, I think you have a point with that statement.

Cota Cota said:

Hell a lot of computer like devices have more CPU than they really need, besides more likely the guys that decided putting those processors studied Economics :P

Littleczr Littleczr said:

They will figure it out. Trust me if they can get more out of what they have right now they will do it. There is stiff competition out there and allot of money in the table THIS IS ACTUALLY GOOD NEWS, it means there is allot of room fro improvement.

Scott K Scott K said:

what, any moment now, some techspot viewer will comment like they know more then Intel. Even though I am not an engineer, I have always felt the dual/quad core on a phone is a waste. Before you say "they said that about computers too" let me say yes the did. BUT, when they said it it was true, go back in time when they said that and give them a quad core i7 and see how well they could use it. Not very well I imagine. In the future when smart phones evolve once a again to 3d workstations then yes, quad core could be needed. But as a phone, small web browser, email checker and small game device, single core should be fine (and is, if you look at all windows phones).

They could use them better than you're letting on. Before there were multicore chips, there were multicore/multiprocessor motherboards and we knew how to use them just fine.

You think Intel knows best? Well, I think nVIDIA knows best. :)

Your comment is a perfect example of their misunderstanding, which is that on a mobile phone, multicore processors SHOULDN'T be used the way they are used in a PC. Notice he said it was slower, not that it was unusable or ridiculously slow - one way to look at it is to say that the cores aren't being used efficiently, another is to say that the battery IS being used efficiently.

Also, they're ignoring one important point, which is that as multicore support improves (no doubt it's not perfect), and the phones get upgraded (whether by an OTA update or by a custom ROM) owners of these phones will have a mighty fine device.

By the way, the WP7 phones can't support multiple cores - I'd imagine that has something to do with their lack of multiple cores.

Guest said:

@Chazz

+1

More proof how lazy "comment section analysts" really are.

*hint - click the source links once in a while. ;)

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I'd trust Intel for opinions on cpu performance than some random poster on a tech blog.

I agree, Intel's expertise is not under debate. But, I'd also not trust Intel's opinions blindly, which was kind of a point I was making. As indicated by the source articles (and other related stories around the web), this comment is directly targeted at making competitors' multi-core SoC platforms seem weak on Android. Meanwhile, I'm sure COMPLETELY coincidentally, Intel is trying to gain traction in an industry dominated by multi-core ARM units, with their single-core Medfield Atom processor.

Sure, Intel's processor experience is superior. But, to trust a corporation's opinions and not expect them to be self-serving or marketing driven is naive, to say the least.

Scott K Scott K said:

You guys should learn to read. Intel said they're gonna work with google to fix Androids shortcomings,like they did with Microsoft so long ago, they in no way said Android sucks or are implying that their new OS is better. They are encouraging other OEMs to offer support to google as well, so they aren't the only one spending resources doing this.

I'd trust Intel for opinions on cpu performance than some random poster on a tech blog.

You have to ask, why is it that Android has these shortcomings when Linux doesn't? They share the same kernel, no?

I trust Intel to know about CPU performance. But in the mobile arena, it's not just about performance anymore.

mevans336 mevans336 said:

I take these comments as a slap in ARM's face. Maybe Mike Bell should clarify his statement a bit and say that Android isn't well suited for running on "Intel" multicore processors. ICS runs extremely well on my quad core TF201, CPU courtesy of ARM. Intel is still playing catchup in the GPU and low-power SOC market. Just more marketing BS from a company that's good at spin and not in results.

While I am sure there is a bit of hyperbole included since Mr. Bell works for Intel, benchmarking by Anandtech on Intel's mobile SoC (Medfield) running Android mostly validates what Mr. Bell is saying. Except for a few cases, it's the GPU that makes Android seem "smooth," not the CPU.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus (dual core Snapdragon S4 @ 1.2GHz) and the Lava Xolo (first Medfield Android phone, single core Atom at 1.6GHz) use the same PowerVR 504 GPU although the Lava has the GPU clocked about 100MHz higher.

Anand's conclusion is that it's the GPU holding the phone from being the leader, not the CPU.

Quote: "The performance side is obviously even more competitive. Atom isn't always industry leading in our tests, but the X900 is rarely more than a couple places away from the top (with the exception of GPU performance of course, but that's a matter of licensing a different IP block in future versions)."

[link]

I have a dual-core Droid Bionic and I'm largely satisfied with the performance, but I want better battery life.

mosu said:

After extensive testing, I only can agree with Intel and mevan336.The futility of multicore for light tasks shows only on battery operated devices, not desktops.(for now and I hope that changes in the future)

Guest said:

I am no tech professional either but commonsense

would suggest that the screen real estate on all

smartphones under 5" (between 5 & 7 they are considered

'phablets') really only lends itself to running one or two

apps at once. Processes that a 1.2Ghz plus, single core

CPU handles well.

Microsoft has been in the business for a very long time

and has in my humble opinion made the right choice for

it's mobile OS, I.e.single core based hardware.

I picked up the latest HTC Titan 11 a week ago. So far it's

operation is flawless and is very quick with only one exception,

battery life.

LTE 4G connectivity (36Mb/s download), location services,

WiFi etc. all are a must to run the phone effectively and

sure the powerful 1.5Ghz processor adds to the drain on

the battery. I get a 'working' day between charges.

You would either have to run 1Ghz or less in a multi-core

setup, or the fabrication would need to be far smaller to at

least equal or better battery life, software being similar.

Until newer faster charging batteries are used and software

is further optimized, then many of the more capable phones

will experience usage constraints.

Chazz said:

I am no tech professional either but commonsense

would suggest that the screen real estate on all

smartphones under 5" (between 5 & 7 they are considered

'phablets' really only lends itself to running one or two

apps at once. Processes that a 1.2Ghz plus, single core

CPU handles well.

Microsoft has been in the business for a very long time

and has in my humble opinion made the right choice for

it's mobile OS, I.e.single core based hardware.

I picked up the latest HTC Titan 11 a week ago. So far it's

operation is flawless and is very quick with only one exception,

battery life.

LTE 4G connectivity (36Mb/s download), location services,

WiFi etc. all are a must to run the phone effectively and

sure the powerful 1.5Ghz processor adds to the drain on

the battery. I get a 'working' day between charges.

You would either have to run 1Ghz or less in a multi-core

setup, or the fabrication would need to be far smaller to at

least equal or better battery life, software being similar.

Until newer faster charging batteries are used and software

is further optimized, then many of the more capable phones

will experience usage constraints.

I have the first titan and I can assure you, the 4G LTE is the cause for you battery issues. Even with heavy usage I can get 24 hours out of my titan. The most I've gotten(admittedly with low usage) is 4 days. Is the 4G that worth it to you? In my opinion it isn't, so when I do upgrade my phone I'll immediately disable it.

Guest said:

what, any moment now, some techspot viewer will comment like they know more then Intel. Even though I am not an engineer, I have always felt the dual/quad core on a phone is a waste. Before you say "they said that about computers too" let me say yes the did. BUT, when they said it it was true, go back in time when they said that and give them a quad core i7 and see how well they could use it. Not very well I imagine. In the future when smart phones evolve once a again to 3d workstations then yes, quad core could be needed. But as a phone, small web browser, email checker and small game device, single core should be fine (and is, if you look at all windows phones).

Intel couldn't possibly be lying to push their own agendas now could they?

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

It is interesting to note that how many of these comments show one thing, that most users haven't tried different mobile OS available right now to form their own opinion. Android is the least 'optimized' OS when it comes to multicore SoCs IMHO, I own a multicore android smartphone and Lumia 800, and in almost everything the Lumia beats ICS running droid. Personally I'd rate iOS as the best mobile OS, followed by WP, and Android in 3rd place.

SCJake said:

as far as performance goes, I see your point, but the fact is that you are all looking at it the wrong way. iOS = 1 device with 1 set of hardware meaning you can code directly to the hardware.

WP7 = limited manufacturing, mainly nokia. This would allow them to code to a smaller collection of hardware and work closely with their main manufacturer to provide the best compliments of hardware and software

Android = owned by google who does almost zero in terms of manufacturing, and until the recent purchase of motorola mobility, has no main manufacturer. they have to try to make their code as universal as possible.

hmm.. looks like MS gave in (mostly) to Apple tactics in the mobile market and Google is filling their place....

dcnc123 dcnc123 said:

android is hell of a kind Mobile os.... it supports the most of the mobile devices........

the problem for android is that you need to support as many hardwares as you can like screen size, resolution, Versions, processors and etc etc thats why developing android apps takes time to develop because you need to test it on a bucket of android devices .....

SCJake said:

Exactly. I LOVE android, but because theyre trying to code it universally they will always be behind just because making things universal takes them a lot longer than anyone else to make something work.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

@SCJake

You are forgetting that MS has lot more experience with regard to delivering OS which can dynamically scale according to hardware, so when it comes to mobile SoCs I expect them to deliver a better product than Google (as Linaro also proved just about same point with regard to Android's poor optimization). Not to mention its security/performance/stability issues, areas in which iOS and WP are miles ahead of android.

1 person liked this | Jibberish18 said:

I take these comments as a slap in ARM's face. Maybe Mike Bell should clarify his statement a bit and say that Android isn't well suited for running on "Intel" multicore processors. ICS runs extremely well on my quad core TF201, CPU courtesy of ARM. Intel is still playing catchup in the GPU and low-power SOC market. Just more marketing BS from a company that's good at spin and not in results.

While I am sure there is a bit of hyperbole included since Mr. Bell works for Intel, benchmarking by Anandtech on Intel's mobile SoC (Medfield) running Android mostly validates what Mr. Bell is saying. Except for a few cases, it's the GPU that makes Android seem "smooth," not the CPU.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus (dual core Snapdragon S4 @ 1.2GHz) and the Lava Xolo (first Medfield Android phone, single core Atom at 1.6GHz) use the same PowerVR 504 GPU although the Lava has the GPU clocked about 100MHz higher.

Anand's conclusion is that it's the GPU holding the phone from being the leader, not the CPU.

Quote: "The performance side is obviously even more competitive. Atom isn't always industry leading in our tests, but the X900 is rarely more than a couple places away from the top (with the exception of GPU performance of course, but that's a matter of licensing a different IP block in future versions)."

[link]

I have a dual-core Droid Bionic and I'm largely satisfied with the performance, but I want better battery life.

Couple of things I'd like to correct you on. The Galaxy Nexus does not have a Snapdragon S4. It has a Texas Instruments 4460. The GPU is not a 504 but a Power VR SGX540. The Galaxy SIII DOES however have a Snapdragon S4 for the carrier versions.

As for the article. Yeah Intel could be talking to make themselves seem better OR you know, they could not be talking out of their ass and actually saying the truth. So far we know that for years putting the fastest and newest hardware in a phone with Android does not mean absolute performance as shown by the literal stuttering nature doing simple things like flipping from page to page. But really, this is the nature of Android too. Apple and Microsoft can keep things tidy because they only allow certain hardware in their phones which means developers can optimize things quite a bit. Android can be used on any damn hardware at any damn time. Also remember that software in general isn't always optimized for multi core use, even on Windows/OSX/Linux. In the tech world, software is constantly trying to catchup with hardware.

mevans336 mevans336 said:

Couple of things I'd like to correct you on. The Galaxy Nexus does not have a Snapdragon S4. It has a Texas Instruments 4460. The GPU is not a 504 but a Power VR SGX540. The Galaxy SIII DOES however have a Snapdragon S4 for the carrier versions.

You are absolutely correct, thanks for the correction. Since my Bionic has the same CPU/GPU (just clocked lower) you would think confusing the two would be neigh impossible. Leave it to me to disprove that theory!

ViperSniper2 said:

@Anonymous#1poster

Let me set you and Techspot straight on this. Because they insinuated that a supposed interview w/ a dirt bag GM (meaning only enough brains to tell Intel Engineers where to go potty on break) by the outright KING of Befuddled FUD Muckers...... INQUIRER!

Now that alone is good enough reason to discount not only who took down the Interview (Sensationalist Rag/Tabloid Reporters), but Techspot's Lee Kaelin for even considering that site as ever posting 100% Truth or more likely leaving out 95% of the Truth in any of their STORIES!

But back to Intel; GM's in general are not even close to knowing much of anything having to do w/ the actual technology, those that work under them must. They only have degrees are in Management..... (NOT electronics) and that's it!

That said, Intel is having problems competing with ARM and since ARM has already won the Mobile ARMS RACE, these Intel GM's resort to anything, that could save their jobs (arses). Mix in enough fact w/ FUD and for the average reader like YOU, it flies right over your heads. So here's what you do; Check out Benchmarks running on Quadcore ARM SoC processors (which Intel has none) and compare them to Single Core and Dual Core SoC processors. Then you might realize Mike Bell is full of Shizt! .....or perhaps you just don't GET THE REAL MOTIVE!

Intel wants to SELL YOU Intel Powered Phones and WINDOZ 8 TABLETS over ARM Based Products!!! ....duh

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Just to clear out your thought process:

"In short, ARM & Co. are in a very unenviable position. Intel now has a beachhead and its terrifying, industry-clobbering, 60%-gross-margin wehrmacht will surely follow. You might only see a few Medfield-powered scouts in 2012, but by the time the 22nm Silvermont tanks roll around in 2013 and x86 is better than ARM across the board, expect to see dozens of Santa Clara design wins. Unless TSMC, IBM, GloFo, or Samsung uncover some kind of ancient scroll that details the magic of 14nm, come 2014 and the Airmont core, I wouldn't be surprised if Intel completely dominates the Android smartphone market."

Source: ExtremeTech

Being ahead by a whole full nod puts lots of pressure on ARM (& its partners), as none of them have enough muscle and know how to beat Intel on this, beside once Intel get this right, ARM in no way can maintain performance parity with x86; forget about power consumption comparison anyway. To reinforce:

Now that Intel's in the ring, future devices from the top ARM vendors will have to compete on their merits against the most advanced foundry in the world. ARM will try to focus the debate on the question of architectural efficiency, but that ship has sailed. Whatever small differences favor ARM, the company will need them to offset Intel's manufacturing lead.

Source: ExtremeTech

In addition, the fact that Medfield have 16 stage out-of-order pipeline compared to 8-stage in-order pipeline of ARM C9, and you get the picture why Medfield beats it even with a single core in tests. But Intel is not there, where they will be in couple of years.

With its combination of power, performance, and packaging, Medfield is a genuinely viable smartphone platform. Atom has always had the performance it needed to compete in this space, and now it also has the low power and high integration to tackle Cortex A9 head on. It might not always be the best in class, but it doesn't have to be the best. It has to be competent and credible, and it is both of those things.

Source: ArsTechnica

Clear evidence that Medfield is very competitive with dual cores and even quad core ARM chips.

Source: AnandTech

To sum it up, if ARM is unable to keep up with Intel, it could be next AMD.

So, next time you decide to utter something, do it with some research, instead of wasting time and space.

ViperSniper2 said:

They're using the same Thread Scheduler that's in the 2.6 Linux kernel since early 2011, when Google's Android was again brought back in the linux fold. It was written by none other than Intel's arch-nemisis IBM and that's interesting, because literally all of Intel's competition now have or will have multi-core processors. Yet all Intel has is their lame legacy Pentium based Medfield single cores going into cell phones. So it sounds like their frustration for not being invited to the Mobile Processor Party by manufacturers is beginning to get the best of them!!! haha....

btw.... you can look up "The Completely Fair Scheduler" on IBM's site or web. It's what every Linux distro or forked version using any kernel after 2.6 has built into it!!!

[link]

Somebody should ask that ***** if he even knows what Thread Scheduler Android is using! lol...

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

One word ---> Linaro. You can also do a search for it. If an performance boost of 20/30% can be achieved by just 'optimization' it tells something.

As far CFS is concerned, I am inclined to believe that it is not targeted at any one architecture I.e. ARM or x86.

And to usefulness of CFS Patch, I'll quote Red Hat's Lennart Poettering:

"So, this patch only has an effect of people who build kernels from an xterm with make -j all day, and at the same time want to watch a movie, from a player they also start from a terminal, but from another one."

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