Sunday, June 19, 2011

Next Gen Mobile Chips: Quad-Core Or Supercharged GPU? What's Best For Battery Life

The next step in mobile chips is naturally going to be more sophisticated and faster than the current chips that power the top line mobile devices.  Tegra 2 from Nvidia is making waves with Android smartphones and tablets while Apple's A5 chip powers its iPad and, probably, the next generation iPhone.  Both of these chips are dual-core running at 1Ghz.  Also powering these chips are powerful graphics units.  And while it took years for desktop CPU to go from single core to dual core and an even longer period of time for laptops, mobile device chips are made the move faster and there is already talk about quad-core chips.

So, I wonder what is better for overall mobile performance.  And how does that balance with the battery life?

At this point, I think the current chips are good enough for our mobile needs.  And in fact, the previous gen chips, like the single-core Qualcomm Snapdragons running at 1Ghz as well as the A4 chips powering the iPhone 4, are doing quite a good job.  Their performance supports one hundred percent of mobile needs.  And as far as handling top of the line iPhone and Android games, these chips has yet to show their age.  

For competitive reasons, the various mobile device makers has no choice but to continue to push the mobile tech envelope  At the same time, I think the older chips will continue to find a market in the low-end smartphone and prepaid markets.  

And since more operations are being off-loaded to the GPU for greater coding efficiency, I wonder if there is a need to hurry the jump from dual-core to quad-core.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for faster and better smartphones and tablets.  At the same time, I like to see that balanced against even better battery life.

The 10-hours we're getting from Xoom and the iPad are pretty good but I would like to safely get 12 hours out of them for the next gen upgrades.  And on the smartphone side, is there really such a thing as moderate use that many review sites like to say in their battery tests?  I think as society goes more mobile, today's heavy use may well be tomorrow's light use.  

Take the Atrix which is used to power an Android-netbook setup.  Also consider the ASUS Transformer  Both of these devices can lay claim to better battery lives only with the hope of the added battery in their respective keyboard accessories  That doesn't work for me.  

Apple allows mirroring through its Airplay implementation to a HDTV or monitor.  With a BT keyboard, we can be looking at a whole new setup for our future computing needs.  If the iPhone or iPad that is simultaneously used as a mirroring device and for wireless input, that has got to sap the battery life.  

It would be great to see the next generation mobile devices used in this capacity without much of a penalty to the battery life.  And used as a standalone device, go from today's 10-hours to 12-15 hours.  

So, it'll be interesting to see if these companies will try to increase the mobile processing power with higher core counts and/or GPU but hold the line for battery life at the current level or go with a smaller increase in processing power while pushing the envelope on the battery life.

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