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Dual-core, Quad-core & the Pressure on Developers

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So Mobile World Congress (MWC) has brought another wave of skinny, light, powerful mobile devices to Barcelona. ¡Qué sorpresa! Unlike previous years, however, the class of 2011 will ask fundamentally new questions of the software developers charged with creating ever more rich and engaging software applications for them.

You see whereas many predicted tablets to be the dominant theme of MWC 2011 and yes there - have - been - a - lot - they are not what should excite us most. That privilege should be reserved for multi-core. From the moment the LG Optimus 2x became the world's first dual-core smartphone when it was unveiled at CES a consensus that 'more cores are better than one' has engulfed the mobile sector. LG was quickly followed by the Motorola Atrix 4G, but these two stood alone until MWC.

Since then Barcelona has been used by almost everyone to demonstrate their love for dual-core. Samsung rolled out the Tab II and Galaxy S II (above), LG showed off the Optimus Pad and Optimus 3D and Acer has unveiled the A100 and A150 tablets. In fact the only surprise is HTC has yet to officially hop on the dual core bandwagon with its Flyer tablet, Desire S Incredible S and Wildfire S sticking to single-core processors for now. That said, rumours suggest this situation won't last long with the leaked HTC Revolver said to sport a 1.2GHz dual-core processor to power a 4.3in display and, allegedly, an Android Honeycomb OS.

Meanwhile chipset makers are looking to stretch performance even further. Most notable is Qualcomm, which has announced its next generation Snapdragon chipsets will be available in quad-core configurations with each core running at up to 2.5GHz. If this sounds like science fiction then Nvidia looks set to take things even further. Today's announced 'Project Kal-El' will also be quad-core, but feature a 12-core Nvidia GPU with support for video resolutions of up to 2560 x 1600 pixels and have up to 5x the power of Tegra 2. The launch timeframe? 2011.

The interesting aspect to all this though it places huge emphasis and expectation on software developers. Without dedicated coding, dual-core processors offer little to no performance advantage over their single-core variants. As those with long memories of the PC progression to multi-core will remember: to show real world improvements multiple core processors need software that supports multi-threading and there are numerous reasons as to why that might not be coming any time soon...

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