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Mobile CPU’s Explained: It’s Not All About The Cores

“What’s the processor — Dual-core or Quad-core?”

“Is it 1.2GHz or 1.4GHz”

If I happened to overhear these questions five years ago, I’d be sure that the conversation was about computers. But now that smartphones have practically become pocketable computers, many people wanting to buy one are concerned about these technical specifications. Previously, big words like ‘multi-core’ were only boasted by flagship smartphones costing upwards of Rs. 30,000. But today, these ‘keywords’ are used to lure people into buying inexpensive phones that also boast of such ‘high-end’ features. What gives? How can a phone costing Rs. 15,000 have almost-matching specs as phones costing nearly twice as much? Something has got to give.

More Cores Does Not Always Equate to Faster Performance

We will take the example of two Samsung handsets to illustrate this — the Galaxy Grand Duos has a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor, while the newly launched Galaxy Grand Quattro has a 1.2 GHz quad-core chip. You might find it baffling that the latter model with the quad-core chip actually sells a couple of thousand rupees cheaper than the former with a dual-core CPU.

The trick here is that mobile chip makers have come up with quad-core processors targeted for cheap smartphones. Reading the fine-print will reveal that these quad-core CPUs are based on older architectures.

Whenever you’re reading about CPUs in a smartphone, you may come across the following terminologies — ‘ARM’, ‘Cortex’, ‘A5’ or ‘A7’ or ‘A9’. ARM is the name of a company that licences their architectures (branded Cortex) with different models coming up each year like the A series mentioned before.

Now, based on these architectures, chip makers like Qualcomm make the “Snapdragon” series of chipsets, or Samsung makes their own “Exynos” that powers their flagship handsets like the Note II (Cortex A9) or the Galaxy S4 (Cortex A15). NVIDIA uses the same ARM architecture to produce their Tegra range of chipsets. The MediaTek chipset in the Micromax Canvas HD A116 is based on the ARM Cortex A7.

So, the quad-core chip in the Galaxy Grand Quattro is based on the ARM Cortex A5, while the Galaxy Grand Duos runs a dual-core Cortex A9 based one. Also, remember that real performance would also depend upon how well the OS is optimised to make good use of all the cores of the CPU. Probably one of the reasons why we didn’t find the Quattro to run any smoother than the Galaxy Grand in our usage, despite benchmarks suggesting that the former is faster than the latter. So “quad-core” merely serves as a glorious sticker on the box to help sell the handset better in a cut-throat competitive market.

Don’t Forget to check out the Graphics Chip

Though benchmarks may suggest that a quad-core chip is better than the dual-core, it’s not just up to the CPU to determine the overall performance. Because the Quattro is fitted with a less powerful Adreno 203 graphics chip, seemingly because of which, video recording on the phone is capped to just 720 x 480 pixels (that’s DVD resolution). Whereas, the Galaxy Grand’s Broadcom VideoCore IV GPU is capable of recording and playing back video in 1080p Full HD. The lower-end graphics chip will also serve as a bottleneck in graphics-intensive games.

Bottom line — It’s not just all about the cores.

It’s worth knowing what kind of chipset does the mobile device use. Lastly, true performance simply cannot be judged by looking at these numbers, while actually using the phone will reveal the how smooth the interface really is or how well can the device multitask with many apps open.

Rohan Naravane

Rohan Naravane is in charge of content & product experience on PriceBaba. When he’s not writing about technology, he likes to talk about it and will ramble on if he finds you remotely technological. His on-going endeavours include creating a perfect routine that allows him to get back in shape, followed by marathoning of TV shows/movies after work.

42 Comments

    • Mahesh
    • May 23, 2013

    nice analysis, well explained 🙂

    Reply
      • Rohan Naravane
      • May 23, 2013

      Thank you! Be sure to share this with your friends if they start arguing about dual-cores and quad-cores. 😛

      Reply
  1. Great analysis couple with good example. Apart from having the shiny sticker Samsung is digging his grave by confusing Indian audience on how Quads go cheaper the Dual cores.

    I guess Samsung is just enjoying a selling spree once this is done some level playing competitor will throw them out with clear focused products.
    Shared 😉

    Reply
    • sreerocker
    • May 24, 2013

    Hey which one should I buy-Galaxy Grand or Galaxy Grand Quattro ???????????
    Please help

    Reply
      • Rohan Naravane
      • May 24, 2013

      Between the two, I’d recommend the Grand.

      Reply
    • Soham
    • June 12, 2013

    Nice Analysis.
    And it is very helpful for me because i was in a dilemma from last few days which one to go for between Grand and Grand quattro. Now i will definitely buy Grand.
    Keep it up.. cheers.. !!!

    Reply
      • Rohan Naravane
      • June 12, 2013

      Thanks! Glad you’re making an informed decision!

      Reply
    • sanjiv kumar
    • June 20, 2013

    Very Informative…Really useful Info..!!!

    Reply
    • raj
    • July 1, 2013

    hi. i want to know which brand is best as a high end phone and also recommend a phone which is below 15k and has good features.thanks

    Reply
      • Rohan Naravane
      • July 1, 2013

      Hi Raj, it would be difficult to say the “best brand” for a high-end phone but Apple, HTC and Samsung would be the top three in my opinion. For a phone below 15k with good features, go for the Micromax Canvas HD A116.

      Reply
    • Kiran
    • July 2, 2013

    Which one do you prefer of these two – 1. Micromax Canvas HD A116 or 2. Karbonn S5 Titanium

    Reply
      • Rohan Naravane
      • July 2, 2013

      Micromax Canvas HD A116. Because of the 1280 x 720 pixel display.

      Reply
        • rithik
        • March 16, 2015

        I want to buy a smartphone
        But confused in e7,s4,s5,a7

        Reply
    • JK Rao
    • July 20, 2013

    Hi! Rohan,
    I sincerely appreciate your contribution thru this website & Blog to the mobile tech community,

    Pls help me deciding one among the following Quad phones if one needs to choose between them & one who is relatively new to smartfones & andriod.

    1. Xolo Q800 – MT6589W M Processor (MT6589 is not available) which is costing Rs.10500+ at the local retailer stores.
    2. Lenovo A706 – MSM8255Q 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon which is costing Rs.13399/- (MRP Rs15949/-) at Lenovo’s website.
    3. Samsung Grand Quattro – ?? Which is costing Rs.16000+/- at the local retailer stores.

    I have considered the above phone because
    1. Xolo for the entire product configuration like CPU & GPU Processor, Cam , CPU , Sec.Cam , Battery, though got a mixed reviews abt this phone. xolo i am not aware of their manufacturing / Sys Integration quality. But guess has a better processor both cpu & gpu.
    2. Lenovo & 3. Samsung for the brand & apps, as i assume that they will not compromise on the quality aspect of sys.Integration.

    For the above phones Pls also let me know the bundled apps , what & how is the call / music audio speakers ( Lenovo A706 has Dolby® Digital Plus Audio), Mic, display quality etc.

    Thanks & Regards
    JK Rao

    Reply
      • Rohan Naravane
      • July 24, 2013

      Hi Mr. Rao, sorry for the delay in replying to this. The Xolo I haven’t yet tried personally. I had a brief time with the Lenovo handset and it felt pretty decent overall. I wasn’t too happy with the Quattro, especially because you can get a Micromax Canvas HD for less, which is better in some ways (if you don’t mind the larger 5-inch screen, that is).

      Reply
        • JK Rao
        • July 26, 2013

        Thanx Rohan for the reply! I was considering a 4.5 in phone rather. Can you Pls. advice on the cpu processors which is better to invest in MKT’s MT6589W M Processor + PowerVR SGX 544 MP GPU (or) Qualcomm MSM8625Q Snapdragon 200 + Adreno 203 GPU cortex A5?

        Reply
    • JK Rao
    • July 23, 2013

    Dear Rohan can you pls provide your advice to my previous request?

    Regards

    Reply
    • rahul
    • July 27, 2013

    Excuse me sir, but when considering gaming whch phone will be best in budget of rs 20000. U seem like the right person to ask this question(b4 reading ur article i was surw more d cores
    better d performance.

    Reply
      • Rohan Naravane
      • July 29, 2013

      Well, one phone that I can think of under the Rs. 20k mark is the Xperia L. It’s got an Adreno 305 GPU, which is better than the Adreno 203 or the PowerVR SGX544, that are typically found aboard inexpensive quad-core phones.

      http://pricebaba.com/mobile/sony-xperia-l

      Reply
    • JK Rao
    • July 28, 2013

    Thanx Rohan for the reply! I was considering a 4.5 in phone rather. Can you Pls. advice on the cpu processors which is better to invest in MKT’s MT6589W M Processor + PowerVR SGX 544 MP GPU (or) Qualcomm MSM8625Q Snapdragon 200 + Adreno 203 GPU cortex A5?

    Reply
      • Rohan Naravane
      • July 29, 2013

      Well, its hard to tell which is better, as comparing the benchmarks of the two, in some cases one is slightly ahead of the other, and vice-versa. I would assume both their performances are comparable.

      Reply
    • M.Asim
    • July 30, 2013

    Hey congrates you have provided the best possible differentiation amongst the technoligies and now i wanna ask that i wanna buy grand duos but some reviews on internet says that it doesnt support some apps like subway surfer is tht true and howzz the gaming experience is on.grand duos pls tell me ….awaiting your reply…

    Reply
    • kalpna
    • July 31, 2013

    i wanna buy a galaxy grand duos so pls tell me about its current actual market price and its durability….

    Reply
    • Rajni
    • July 31, 2013

    pls tell me is the GPU of galaxy grand duos is capable of running high end games like nfs and is it having some compatability issues with subway surfer…i m in a hurry to it buy so pls reply as quick as possible….

    Reply
    • Nikhil
    • August 1, 2013

    Rajni m using galaxy grand .Its quite capable of running high end games like nfs. Yes it is having compatibility issues with subway surfer, you are right about it.Bt over all m satisfied with grand

    Reply
    • Nikhil
    • August 1, 2013

    Kalpana you can find current and best market price on link

    http://pricebaba.com/mobile/samsung-galaxy-grand-i9082

    Reply
    • Rajni
    • August 1, 2013

    is it safe to download and install subway surfer from.apk file and apart from that does it hang or not….

    Reply
    • arun system
    • August 15, 2013

    which is the best performance cortex A5 quard core or cortex A9 dual core

    Reply
    • anupzod
    • August 29, 2013

    Hi Rohn,…….
    I m considering for samsung galaxy core(Rs. 12900) or nokia lumia 520 (Rs. 8900), which of the 2 gives best value for the money..?……waiting for reply.

    Reply
    • r0han
    • August 30, 2013

    anupzod Well, both are fairly value-friendly phones in their own respects. Only advantage with the Core is Android, which will give you access to a greater variety of apps than the Lumia 520. So what matters to you more? Catchy external appearance or the presence of an official Google Maps app on your phone? Take a call accordingly.

    Reply
    • SumitKumarPanigrahi
    • September 20, 2013

    Hi rohan, Plz help me in deciding wethe to go for grand duos or canvas HD. Price is not a factor for me. Its about the quality, specifications and user experience. Plz suggest

    Reply
    • r0han
    • September 20, 2013

    SumitKumarPanigrahi Well, between the two, the Canvas HD has better specs. But I cannot vouch for Micromax’s after-sales service as we keep hearing negative feedback from people online.

    Reply
    • yashkhatri3297
    • September 30, 2013

    Hey admin m new to your site just tell me dual A7 and 512 mb ram or dual A9 with 512 MB ram to be precise MT6577 vs MT6572 what is better for gaming also MT6589W-M in canvas2+ vs canvas HD’s MT6589 which of them should i chose both being different one quad core and a dual core

    Reply
    • Amine_BHO
    • September 16, 2014

    quad core 1.4 ghz cortex a9 vs Dual-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7 who’s best?

    Reply
    • ShwetaG09
    • September 17, 2014

    Hi Rohan- Please suggest about – Google android one – Micromax A1 mobile. Is it worth busying. Would appreciate if you can guide me through.

    Reply
    • r0han
    • September 17, 2014

    ShwetaG09

    Reply
    • ShwetaG09
    • September 17, 2014

    r0han ShwetaG09 Thanks Rohan for your quick revert. 🙂

    Reply
    • r0han
    • September 17, 2014

    ShwetaG09 You’re most welcome 🙂

    Reply
    • ikea
    • June 18, 2015

    Which one is better asus zenfone 5 16gb or nokia x2 dual sim?

    Reply
    • mayur
    • October 16, 2015

    Please suggest, which phone should i buy in terms of powerful processor, nexus6 or lg g4?

    Reply
    • Serena L Barton
    • April 3, 2016

    I have a samsung galaxy s3 that I love. Someone gave me a samsung new galaxy prime core and I was comparing the two and the prime core has only a quad core 1.3 ghz. My galaxy S3 has quad core 1.4 ghz cortex-a-9 exynos 4212 quad. What the heck! I don’t know what all that means but does the new prime core even compare to my old S3? Please advise cause my S3 had a small crack in it. I play lots of games

    Reply

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