Is a single-core CPU enough for your Windows Phone? Or did Nokia’s CEO just put a foot in his mouth?

Earlier a quote from Nokia CEO Stephen Elop got my attention. He thinks that dual-core and quad-core processors are really just wasting your precious battery life, and have no actual performance benefits. He has said something similar before, so at least he’s being consistent (for now).

Yes, some people firmly believe that single-core processors are enough even for today’s top of the line smartphones, while others are of the opinion that more is always better, especially regarding CPU performance.

So let’s dive in and see who’s right. And why Elop’s being disingenuous when he’s playing for the single-core camp.

Are more cores better? Or worse?

Dual-core. Do more. Quad-core. 4-PLUS-1. More is better.

The above are things said (or implied) by companies who want to sell you dual-core or quad-core devices. It’s in their interest for you to believe all of the above. If you do, you’ll buy. Easy as pie.

There are those who for one reason or another don’t (or can’t) offer you dual-core or quad-core devices. What do they say? Don’t bother with multiple cores on a phone. You won’t ever see performance gains. You’ll only lose battery life. Mobile operating systems aren’t optimized for multiple cores.

Then the multi-core camp fights back. No, 4-PLUS-1. PLUS-1 means better battery life in some cases than dual-core.

And it just goes on and on. It’s a war. They’re all desperate for your attention, and for you to believe their claims. And pick a side. And be loyal to it. And fight on its behalf. Tell all your friends – more cores are always better. Or – they’re not. Never ever.

You get the drift, hopefully. Everyone’s spreading FUD left and right like there’s no tomorrow.

The truth is that all of these people are right. That’s what none of them will ever admit. In some cases, multi-core processors eat a lot more battery than their single-core counterparts. And in some cases, they do that without actually performing any better.

Also, some multi-core processors are better at performance, and power saving, than others. It’s all relative and there are no absolute truths, in spite of marketing departments everywhere. Not all multi-core processors are the same. After all, that’s why we have competition in this space, with many chip makers constantly churning out many different offerings.

Additionally, it all depends a whole lot on software. Software optimized to take advantage of those extra cores. Or software that isn’t, which may even lead to multi-core smartphones taking a big hit in both performance and stability compared to single-core rivals. The LG Optimus 2X (T-Mobile G2X) comes to mind.

Why Stephen Elop is being disingenuous

Of course Elop’s in the single-core camp, since his company only has single-core smartphones out there. Windows Phone simply doesn’t support multiple core processors yet. And not because all the WP device makers got together and decided that more cores will be worse for battery life.

Sure, the current batch of Windows Phones are pretty snappy even with their single-core processors. And even the newly announced Lumia 610 (with its lower-end hardware) seems reasonably on par with most midrange and high-end Androids, for example, for tasks that aren’t resource intensive. So the truth is that Windows Phone Mango (and Tango) doesn’t need dual-core or quad-core processors to feel snappy.

On the other hand, there’s never such a thing as ‘enough performance’. So Windows Phone could definitely use multi-core processors. At least for performance in games if for nothing else. No, it’s not needed, but it would be welcome.

Which is why it’s highly expected that the next major iteration of the platform, codenamed Apollo, will support multi-core processors. This information has been leaked many times so far, quite conclusively.

And that is why Elop should have shut up. It’s not that he doesn’t have a point at some level, it’s that he’s being disingenuous. He implies that Windows Phone is so good it doesn’t need multi-core CPUs. But then in a couple of months the same Stephen Elop will come and tell you how amazing the new Lumia 910 (or whatever) is because of its impressive dual-core CPU.

Do you honestly think that there will be some major advancement in battery life for dual-core or quad-core processors between now and Q3 when the first Apollo phones are expected to be announced?

If you do, then you probably don’t know anything about the length of smartphone development cycles. Long story short: that Lumia 910 is already in development, and has been for months. So knowing this, probably even carrying a dual-core phone himself (as CEOs always like to tout the latest unreleased hardware) at one point or another, Elop comes out and disses multi-core processors. Make of that what you will.

Author: Vlad Bobleanta

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  • Justd80010

    Elop isn’t being disingenuous. He said that today’s multi-core phones don’t run apps that are optimized to take advantage of them.Which is perfectly the case overall. You speak of Windows Apollo supporting multiple cores, that’s true as well, but Nokia phones sporting multi-core processors will probably also be rocking 16+ MP cameras and gaming apps that originate to run on multi-core Windows 8 tablets and will therefore be optimized for the multi-core experience. To say that Elop is disingenuous just because Nokia’s current phones don’t have, and incidentally don’t NEED, multi-core processors I think is an unfortunate position to take, and one I think this author probably borrowed from other tech bloggers. Elop has said repeatedly that Nokia has been working closely with MS to develop an overall UX on Apollo that they didn’t have an opportunity to introduce with Mango, including partnering with developers like EA to produce exclusive apps optimized for the platform that can really take advantage of having multiple cores and making the trade off with loss of longevity in regard to the battery. All of these statements are perfectly consistent. I notice that the new Ipad doesn’t have 4-cores even though Android is moving that way, because Apple, like Nokia, sees that most apps run on the platform don’t have a need to engage that many cores. When the apps are ready, and the batteries are ready, all of these devices will have 2 or more cores. Until then let Google play this game alone the same way they’re playing the “download malware from our official store” game alone. 

  • Anonymous

    But more *is* better.

    It’s just more Ghz, more instructions / cycle and more power efficiency.

    On all these WP phones suck arse, I’m afraid.

    They ship with old hardware.

    That’s why WP phones get creamed on browsing, Linpack, AR and 3D benchmarks.

    And that is why Elop is full of crock.
     

  • Darangant

    Well if he has first hand knowledge about the performance of both as you are implying then he should know what he is talking about. Also there might be some additional uses for the dual core when Apollo arrives such as pureview tech. I agree with you that if Elop comes out bragging about the new dual core tech without bringing anything new to the table then they are not living up to their “it’s not technology, it’s what you can do with it” slogan.

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  • Anonymous

    More is more and more is better.

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    I think more cores can be better or can be worse, it depends on the supporting technology and the needs of people who are using the gadgets.
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