Are quad core smartphones useless?


It started with benchmarks being posted showing the dual core Motorola Moto X outperforming quad core smartphones. With the Apple iPhone 5S being released with a dual core processor and performing rather well in benchmarks, the question is being raised again. Are quad core phones useless?

The answer is, it depends on which benchmark you use. If the benchmark is not CPU intensive and is not multithreaded, then the benchmark will show that a quad core processor brings no benefit. AnandTech recently conducted benchmarks on both the LG G2, HTC One, Motorola Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S4 and the last three generations of iPhones using a new mobile benchmark 3DMark. To the old hands, 3DMark is familiar and used to be the standard in determining PC gaming performance.

While 3DMark is primarily a graphics test, taken to the mobile world, it is also rather CPU intensive. Anand Lal Shimpi wrote: “As we’ve discovered in the past, 3DMark is far more of a CPU test than GFXBench. While CPU load will range from 6 – 25% during GFXBench, we’ll see usage greater than 50% on 3DMark – even during the graphics tests. 3DMark is also heavily threaded, with its physics test taking advantage of quad-core CPUs.”

During the graphics test, the top three phones in terms of performance were the iPhone 5S, LG G2 and Moto X.

Image Credit: Qualcomm

When it came to the physics test, the quad core phones crushed the dual core phones. Predictably, the LG G2 came out with a score almost twice as high as the Moto X and iPhone 5S. Coming in at second and third place behind the LG G2, were the other two quad core phones tested, the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. Actually, in the Physics test, the iPhone 5S and Moto X really do not perform better than an iPhone 5.

I am deliberately not putting the scores here. AnandTech conducted the tests and you should really visit AnandTech to get the breakdown.

But we don’t buy our phones to run benchmarks. And the question is: Are quad core phones better in day to day tasks or even gaming? The answer is: Today, not really. In the future, maybe.

I still have a pair of old single core Androids from late 2010, a Samsung Galaxy Tab and HTC Desire HD and they run most apps on Google Play well enough. While I am not into gaming much, I did try Minion Rush on the Samsung Galaxy Tab and it ran fine. The reason why an old device can still run new apps is because few developers, if any at all, do not develop apps which will only run well on a Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5S. The smartphones in the market are comprised of three to four generations of Android and iPhones. With older phones still in circulation, app developers want their apps to run on older devices, too.

Quad core phones and Apple’s latest A7 are not useless, but the higher performance is really more for future proofing. In many tasks, older dual core devices will run just as fast as a quad core phone. Getting the fastest devices today, does mean you will be happy with them longer.