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Octa-core vs Quad-core: Does it make a difference?

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Snapdragon

Quad-core or Octa-core: Is there a difference? Here's what you need to know about the processors packed into your smartphone and tablets

For smartphones in 2014 it was mostly about quad-core power. Now, a year later everyone is moving to octa-core processors. Whether its the Samsung Galaxy S6, the Nexus 6P or the bargain priced OnePlus 2.

So is this really a big deal that we know have more cores powering our smartphones?

Octa-core chips have double the number of processor cores of quad-core chips, right? Yes. So they're pretty much twice as powerful, right? No. Not even close. It's not just about the numbers here.

And this is why some explanation of the difference between octa-core and quad-core is needed...

Smartphones Buyers Guide

Octa-core vs Quad-core: It's not about powerThe terms octa-core and quad-core denote the number of processor cores in a CPU. Octa is eight, quad is four. So far, so obvious.

But the key difference between the two – at least when talking about mobile chips in 2015 – is how these processor cores are set up.

In the case of quad-core chips, each core can be put to work simultaneously on a given task, enabling fast and fluid multitasking, smooth 3D gameplay, and super-speedy camera performance, among other things.

Modern octa-core chips, meanwhile, simply have two sets of quad-core processors, which split various tasks between them according to type. Most of the time, the lower-powered set of cores will be employed. When advanced tasks are needed, however, the faster set of four cores will kick in.

A more accurate term than octa-core, then, would be "dual quad-core". But that just sounds confusing, and it's not nearly so marketable. So, octa-core it is.

Related: Snapdragon 810 vs its rivals

octo core vs dual core

The table above shows multi-core benchmark performances of quad-core and octa-core smartphones and tablets (image credit: Geekbench 3)

Octa-core vs Quad-core: Purpose

What's the point of having two sets of quad-core processors handing off tasks to one another, then? It's all about energy efficiency.

The more powerful a CPU is, the more power it has to draw from a device's battery. This poses a problem, given that smartphone battery technology hasn't advanced at anywhere near the rate of mobile processor technology.

The result: as smartphones have gotten more advanced, so battery life has plummeted.

The truth, however, is that you don't really need that much processing power for the vast majority of smartphone tasks. Navigating through your home screens, checking messages, and even browsing the web aren't particularly power-hungry tasks.

However, HD video, gaming, and photo manipulation most certainly are.

Combined with the fact that CPU manufacturing processes have gotten so precise now that you can squeeze much more onto a single chip, the octa-core concept seems to be a practical, if slightly inelegant, way to lengthen a modern phone's battery life without compromising performance where it matters.

Related: How many cores do you actually need in a phone?

Tegra

Octa-core vs Quad-core: Technology

All modern octa-core mobile chips are based on ARM's so-called big.LITTLE architecture.

This big.LITTLE octa-core architecture was announced in October 2011, enabling four low-power Cortex-A7 cores to operate with four high-performance Cortex-A15 cores. ARM has iterated on this setup every year since, providing more capable chips on both halves of the octa-core divide.

A number of major mobile chip manufacturers have based their efforts on this big.LITTLE, or octa-core, blueprint. One of the first and most notable was Samsung's own Exynos chip, which made its debut in Octa form – at least in some territories – with the Samsung Galaxy S4.

More recently, Qualcomm switched to the big.LITTLE octa-core setup with its new Snapdragon 810 CPU. This is the chip that powers the recently announced HTC One M9 and the LG G Flex 2.

At the start of the year, Nvidia unveiled the Tegra X1, its new super-powerful mobile processor that will be at the heart of the company's push into automotive computing. While the X1's headline feature is its console-challenging GPU, it also sees a shift to arm's big.LITTLE architecture. Yep, it's gone octa-core too.

Huawei's own Kirin 920 sported a similar big.LITTLE setup when it made its way into the Honor 6 late last year, while MediaTek is another chip manufacturer to adopt the big.LITTLE architecture with its MT6595 chip.

Related: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 vs iPad Air 2

Exynos

Octa-core vs Quad-core: Conclusion

So, what's the difference between octa-core and quad-core in the modern smartphone business? Very little, as it turns out.

That octa-core term is more than a little misleading, as it doesn't mean the doubling of quad-core multi-core performance that it suggests. Rather, it represents two independently operating quad-core set-ups squeezed together on one chip for the purpose of greater energy efficiency.

Is such an octa-core setup superior to a quad-core one? No, not necessarily. Apple manages to get decent energy efficiency and performance out of a dual-core setup, after all.

The latest news that Qualcomm's supposed processor of choice for smartphones in 2015 will be a 'quad-core' based Snapdragon 820 set up supports this as well. Having gone octa-core for its top end Snapdragon 810 and the mid-range 615 processors this year, both have had their issues. The 810 had the more high profile overheating issues that we experienced with the Sony Xperia Z3 Plus and the LG G Flex 2.

The problem could lie with Qualcomm's decision to swap four Krait cores for ARM's Cortex low-power cores, but it's clear that the company has taken a step backwards to hopefully repair the damage done this year and get manufacturers like Samsung back on board.

ARM's octa-core big.LITTLE blueprint can be seen as one possible solution among several to a long-standing smartphone problem – awful battery life. Once someone solves that particular issue, we suspect that we'll see the end of this curious dual quad-core setup.

If you have any more questions about the differences between octa-core and quad-core processors, let us know in the comments section below.

RJ

April 3, 2015, 7:52 am

how will be the performance of 64-bit QuadCore CPU, an Adreno 306 GPU processor and a Qualcomm MSM 8916 processor Vs an Octacore processor 1.2 or 1.7 GHz?

sarath k.s

September 21, 2015, 8:16 am

which processer is better and fast
plz suggest one and why

1, one plus one 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad core processor

2, moto x play 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 Octa Core Processor

Ernie G

October 2, 2015, 7:47 am

I am looking at this in a tablet that I would like to purchase as I do watch movies a lot when on the road or at motels/hotels. The tablet I am looking at is the 32G 10.1 Inch Google A83T Android 5.1 Lollipop HDMI Tablet PC Octa Core WiFI/Keyboard. How would this processor work in this tablet. Thanks.

0_freaks_0

October 16, 2015, 2:19 pm

Thanks for wasting my time with the video, which bears no relevance to the article in question. Idiots.

Sachin Shivankar

October 19, 2015, 7:49 am

just give in percentage of working effenciency of both processors. as per artical unable to get idea of actual difference, jo samaz main aaye wahi likho

JJ

November 6, 2015, 3:30 pm

Ridiculous to say that 2 quad core and one quad core processor are about the same. Since one quad core is low powered and the second quad core is high powered it has IMMENSE advantage for power saving as the high power quad core only gets activated when the power is needed (games,HQ, encoding...etc). So saying that octacore uses more energy is ludicrous. Comparing octacore to Apples dual core just tells us why he decries Octacore. Go and write Apple reviews!

JJ

November 6, 2015, 3:31 pm

Get the Elephone P6000 Pro. Beats both phones.

Nicolas Georgiou

November 27, 2015, 5:40 pm

What about Android TV Boxes?? What is better?? Quadcore or Octacore?? Suggestions??

Wesley Schipper

December 6, 2015, 1:04 pm

i would like to know about the 2 cpu's in relation with RAM. i.e. a 1.2 ghz quad core with 2gb ram versus a 1.7ghz dual-quad with 1 gb ram.. which one of them would be the better one?? thanx.

Stef Neumann

December 6, 2015, 6:35 pm

Infering performance from the number of cores is just as misleading as trying to determine a car's top speed by looking at engine RPM. There is no direct linear relationship. More processor cores are only useful if there are multiple processes that must be performed simultaneously. If only one thread is active it can only use one core, all other cores will be idle. Multi-core will perform better if multiple active threads have minimal communication between each other. Ideally such threads should be completely unrelated so they share no data or storage and hence do not interfere with each other. The manufacturers (and reviewers) preach meaningless statistics. The devices' "performance" should be assessed in human terms - how useable is the camera, how good are the pictures, how responsive the user interface, etc. Megapixels and core count are irrelevant. My old(er) eyes struggle with ever smaller text, the last thing I need is greater resoluition in a 5" screen. Reviews and assessment should be based on how well the device does what we need, not how many angels dance on a chip.

Stan

January 15, 2016, 6:19 am

I had a Phone wityh quad core processor and buyed a Phone with octa-core processor.
Well, I can say that my experience is that the quadcore is faster then the octa-core, probaly because a octa-core Phone has to do much more to let the octa-core optimal working, so you can better buy a quad-core Phone until the makers of phone's can surily garantee that a octa-core faster is in using by the most users of phones
Thank You very much.

Computer Tablets

March 4, 2016, 8:02 pm

Nicely explaned. Overall, Quad Core still rules the roost.. For now.

Edmundas

April 24, 2016, 9:31 am

I have read some interesting articles about smartphones multi-cores and got the conclusion where it would make MUCH MORE sense to make a Dual Dual-core processor (half of that "QUAD-core" would have low frequency Dual-core and the other one would have high frequency Dual-core processor). That would make much bigger difference in efficiency on battery life than powering 2cores in each Quad-core which do not give much practical power to the user!? All this is having in mind that most of the smartphone apps are written only for Single-core usage and some for multi-core.. (I.e. Deca-core processor: FIRST Quad-core [low freq.] for casual usage; SECOND Quad-core [higher freq.] for gaming and other more demanding apps; FINALLY Dual-core [highest freq.] for 4K filming and HDR filming.) WHY for most demanding application is used Dual-core instead of Quad-core???

Michael Dorsey

August 4, 2016, 7:55 am

you wasted your time, you choose to watch it, idiot (no offense)

Matti M

August 30, 2016, 8:59 pm

I love my quad core. I was wondering why some phones in 2016 and 2015 have quad core even tho octa core is available. my One Plus Three 1+3 device handset is quadcore with high ghz speed 2ghz etc... and it runs so fast

Prince

September 15, 2016, 11:23 pm

you can't compare two different cpus along with two different rams, cpu is something else & ram is something else.
When it comes to mobile 1.7 dual quad core is better.
2gb ram is better than 1gb.

CT JJ_OFFICIAL

November 2, 2016, 7:52 pm

I red the whole and I still don't understand what is the different between quad core and octa core. What is understands is octa core have two quad core but that is not I wanted to know. The thing that I want to know is what had improved. You can make a label comparing between the cores. It will be more easy to be understand.

dogdays1

November 11, 2016, 7:11 pm

Put simply the difference is that a devise with an octa core processor is two quad cores in one chip. One low powered for every day use the other higher powered for gaming etc. I assume the high power part kicks in to assist when the low powered section is struggling. Seems to be a good idea to me, the best of both worlds in one chip.This assumes that the processing transfer is done smoothly and without delay.

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