updated 05:27 am EDT, Wed October 31, 2012
Multi-core chips to aid in multitasking, mobile power consumption
Researchers from Intel are working on processors for mobile devices which will use high numbers of cores. The lab hopes to put a 48-core chip into a smartphone or tablet, dwarfing the dual and quad-core processors currently used, and suggest such a technology could hit the market within the next five to ten years.
Just like a modern computer processor, mobile phone processors use multiple cores to split-up work between multiple cores, be it a single task or multiple different operations, in order to perform the task or tasks as quickly as possible. Mobile devices also mimic computers in combining a multicore CPU and a GPU, offloading most visually-demanding tasks to the graphics processor.
Speaking to Computerworld, Intel Labs scientist Tanausu Ramirez explained that a 48-core processor could offer more than raw computing power. While different cores could work on different frames of a HD video, for example, it was also suggested that using many cores in parallel could use less energy than one core running at near capacity. "The chip also can take the energy and split it up and distribute it between different applications," said Ramirez.
It was also pointed out that applications such as voice recognition and augmented reality will be processor intensive, and that it would be impractical to transfer sound and pictures to a cloud server for processing instead of performing the tasks on the handset. Using such high numbers of cores could also be useful for saving power, such as lowering the number of cores in use when a handset is hibernating.
Though the idea of a 48-core smartphone is an attractive one, it does require software to be created specifically to take advantage of the extra capacity. Rob Enderle, analyst for the Enderle Group, noted it as an issue for existing computer systems, let alone mobile devices. "There aren't many apps now to light up eight cores, let alone lighting up 48," he said, noting the rarity of an application that uses more than six cores on a PC. "Writing for massive multi-core... Well, we haven't even really started to do that yet."
Intel isn't alone in developing new processors for mobile devices. ARM announced yesterday a new processor series called the Cortex A50. The 64-bit processor is hoped to triple the performance found in today's "superphones" while maintaining power usage levels. ARM hopes to ship the new processors by 2014.