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Surprise! First Dual-Core Smartphone Arrives Early

As powerful as smartphones have become this year, none have had a multi-core processor under the hood. At least not until now: LG has officially announced that Europe and Asia will get the Optimus 2X, a svelte Google Android (s goog) handset with Nvidia’s (s nvda) dual core Tegra 2 chip, which effectively behaves like two CPUs in the phone. The phone represents a solid win for Nvidia; although the Tegra 2 was introduced nearly a year ago, few devices up to now have used it.

We’ve been tracking news of dual-core processors for mobile devices throughout 2010, but have been looking to the future for actual products that will use them. Qualcomm (s qcom), for example, recently announced a two-core version of its Snapdragon chip called the MSM8960. However, that silicon won’t be sampling to device-makers until sometime in 2011, so it won’t power products prior to that. Texas Instruments (s txn), also has a new dual-core chip in the pipeline, the OMAP4440, which boasts two 1.5 GHz computer cores. The company expects production of the OMAP4440 in the second quarter of 2011. While these chips are “coming soon,” Nvidia’s Tegra 2 will be in the Optimus 2X smartphone next month and rumors indicate it will power several tablets too.

So what exactly does a dual-core CPU in a phone bring to the user? Much like upgrading to a personal computer with the latest and greatest processor, these chips can improve the overall speed of a smartphone but still maintain judicious battery life. That’s important, because even the fastest mobile devices are essentially useless if the battery only lasts a few short hours. These chips can improve overall speed, handle 1080p video playback without breaking a sweat, and boost webpage loading by 33 percent, according to TI. In a lengthy whitepaper on multicore CPUs, Nvidia mentions a multi-tasking boost: A phone’s navigation app could run on one 1 GHz core while a streaming audio application could run on the other 1GHz core.

Indeed, dual-core chips are the future for more powerful, yet power efficient smartphones as Stacey noted in a GigaOM Pro report on the topic (subscription required). Back in April, she wrote:

As the lines between computers and mobile devices blur, traditional PC vendors are building phones and the traditional phone manufacturers are trying to build mobile PCs. But with mobility come constraints — particularly around power consumption and battery life. So the big task for every device manufacturer is figuring out how to cram all the functionality of a big computer into a tiny handset. Many chip firms believe tomorrow’s phones will be powered by multicore processors that deliver the performance the consumer wants without destroying the lengthy battery life such devices need.

While dual-core smartphones will bring immediate performance gains without sacrificing a device’s run-time, more potential awaits. Clearly a phone’s operating system can help manage processing power by leveraging two or more computing cores, but mobile app developers could achieve gains by writing applications optimized for multi-core use. Through the use of parallel computing, software can better leverage computers with multiple cores. By taking the lessons learned for building software to run on multiple cores in servers developers can build apps that deliver faster results because the processing can take place on the phone. Richer media and games are also a byproduct of multiple cores.

So the full gain from dual-core chips in smartphones may take time to realize, much as it took time for Nvidia to get a top-tier handset-maker to use its Tegra 2 chip. A dual-core phone announced in 2010 and shipping a few short weeks later is a bit of a surprise to me, but I actually expected that if one did appear this year, it would be running on Nvidia’s platform: last month I saw the window of opportunity open for the chip company and this month I see that LG stepped through it. And as Om noted back in May, the arrival of such chips is actually closing the mobile window for Intel (s intc), as it struggles to get its x86 chips to use less power.

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17 Responses to “Surprise! First Dual-Core Smartphone Arrives Early”

  1. “Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):”

    I can’t tell if that’s a joke or if you’re really so deluded to think your content is worth so much more than the rest of the world’s that you can require subscriptions to view it.

    • Celeste LeCompte

      GigaOM Pro is our market research service here at GigaOM. We do believe our content is worth a little cash, and we do our best to offer serious value for your hard-earned money. Our full-length, downloadable and online-viewable research reports — as well as columns, feature articles, and “best of the web” curation services — are accessible to all subscribers for just $199 per year, and our network of more than 70 independent industry analysts touch on topics of critical importance to the entrepreneurs, investors, and tech workers who are our audience here at GigaOM. We hope you’ll check out the free trial before you scoff at our content.

  2. Actually, QCOM’s first dual core chipsets are the “…. dual-CPU Snapdragon™ chipsets. The Mobile Station Modem™ (MSM™) MSM8260™ and MSM8660™ solutions integrate two of the Company’s enhanced cores running at up to 1.2GHz.”, which were announced June 1, 2010.

    Steve Mollenkopf stated the following re: dual-core chips during the recent Earnings CC.
    ……Seeking alpha Transcript –
    “…….and devices based on our dual core products are expected to be available in the first half of calendar 2011.
    In terms of dual core, dual core, we have today over 10 different companies designing tablets on our dual core solutions. So we feel very good about where they’re going. And then also in the handset space, you’ll see that as well. That mix will start to happen through the year.

    The MSM8960 mentioned in the article is the first chip in the “New Snapdragon Family”, also featured during SM’s Analyst day webcast presentation.

    …The MSM8960 is >>>>”World’s first multi-mode 3G/4G integrated (dual- core) chipset. “ (to be sampling in 2H 2011)
    …….Using 28nm geometry – (below all integrated on one single chip)
    ………CPU Upgrade
    …………….5X performance (500% greater )
    …………….75% lower power (1/4 of the power draw)

    ………Graphics Upgrade
    …………….4X performance (400% greater)

    ………Integrated Multi-Mode (baseband)
    …………….+All 3G modes
    ………………..+ WCDMA / HSPA, etc
    ………………..+ CDMA2x / EVDO, etc
    ……………+ 4G Modes
    ………………..+ LTE
    …………..…. .+ TD-LTE
    ………Integrated Connectivity
    ………………..+ GPS
    ………………..+ WLAN (WiFi).
    ………………..+ Bluetooth
    ………………..+ FM

  3. Lucian Armasu

    I don’t think TI said “dual cores offer a 33% improvement in browsing speed (over single core)”. They said it offers a 33% improvement over another model of theirs which runs at 1 Ghz.Or am I mistaken?

    Anandtech’s review of the Viewsonic tablet with Tegra 2 showed a ~80% improvement in browsing speed over a single core.

    And as the guy above me says, Nvidia has already said that Tegra 3 is almost done like 2 months ago. By the time TI, Qualcomm and Samsung (Orion) get their chips in the market Tegra 3 should be out or just around the corner, too.

    The truth is Tegra 2 should’ve been on the market much earlier this year, like September, but I think they’ve had some delays, and Android was also not ready to support it – Honeycomb will in February. I suppose LG decided to optimize Android themselves to work with Tegra 2 and release it early. So my point is, expect Tegra 3 out in summer or early fall.

  4. Lg was rumored to ship with tegra 2 dual core since september ( the big question was it comming to the states?)

    By the time intel samples its chips, nvidia will be sampling its tegra 3 ( rumored quad core platform)

    Marvell also announced its tricore chips as well a few months back.