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How many smartphone processor cores are too many?

Smartphone hardware is getting really powerful, but do we really need so much performance?
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Written by James Kendrick, Rest in Peace on

First there were single core processors, then dual core, and now quad core processors are appearing in smartphones. They are little computers after all, so the more powerful they are the better for everyone, right? I'm not so sure about that, if it gives the platform developers license to keep adding bloat to the OSes that doesn't add much value. We've seen this happen before, as devices get more powerful the software running them gets bloated with stuff that doesn't matter. Are quad core processors really needed in smartphones?

CNET @ MWC:Huawei’s speedy Ascend D Quad phone debuts (photos)| LG in talks with Google for Nexus device | LG leans on high-end specs in smartphone push | Huawei: Our Ascend D Quad is world’s fastest smartphone | Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 to come in 10-inch model, too

Don't get me wrong, I like my gadgets to be snappy as can be, running software without hesitation and bopping along nicely. Lags in performance are the bane of the power user, but throwing ever more powerful processors at the problem is not without cost. It's only common sense that smartphones with quad core processors are bound to cost more to build than those with single or dual core models. Then there is the real cost, that of battery life that can make an otherwise good device unacceptable for use.

Mobile platforms should be designed to take full advantage of lower performance hardware. If a mobile OS needs a quad core processor to get acceptable performance, something is wrong. Take a look at the outstanding performance of the Windows Phone platform. It doesn't run on anything but single core processors, but is optimized to handle the lower performance just fine. That's the way all mobile platforms should work.

I'd like to see the smartphone OS developers get back to streamlining the platforms for optimum performance on lesser hardware. Battery technology is not keeping up with smartphone processor hardware, and I see a point coming where phones will outpace the batteries beyond a practical level. The OS is the best way to combat that bloat, and I hope developers are looking at that closely.

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