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Qualcomm says GPUs are not the saviour in smartphones and tablets

The CPU is still king
Fri Jul 22 2011, 17:16

CHIP DESIGNER Qualcomm claims that GPUs are not the only way to accelerate application performance in smartphones.

Qualcomm, which has found its Snapdragon chip being picked up in many Android and Windows Phone 7 handsets, believes that the GPU, although important, isn't the final word when it comes to overall system performance. Talking with The INQUIRER, Sy Choudhury, director of product management at Qualcomm said, "The GPU will not solve the world's problems."

Choudhury claimed that while Nvidia, which has enjoyed success with its Tegra 2 chip "says GPU, GPU, GPU," for some tasks, such as web browsing, simply going for GPU acceleration won't yield the best performance. Choudhury claimed this is because "you have to feed the GPU with small bits [of data] in parallel".

Although Choudhury said that chip designers should "harness the GPU to better the CPU", he claimed that, in the case of HTML5's Canvas tag, at present a traditional CPU will outperform any system-on-chip GPU. Software optimisation plays a big role in overall performance, said Choudhury. Qualcomm's Adobe Flash playback optimisation led him to claim that an HTC Desire S can play back HD 720p video from the web browser, a task he said the Motorola Xoom's Tegra 2 chip would fail at.

Choudhury said, "There is a misconception that the same processor and operating system gives the same performance." Asked why this the case, Choudhury explained that while everyone gets Qualcomm's hardware optimisations, not all of the software optimisations the firm works on are picked up by all OEMs.

This is, according to Choudhury, due to the market segmentation that device manufacturers like to have. Choudhury said that some manufacturers prefer having a headline device that has an offspring of cut down devices, while other manufacturers, citing Samsung and Motorola as examples, "have little commonality among devices".

Choudhury's point that customers cannot take phone specifications at face value is a worrying one and serves to cement Apple's view of having total control of both the hardware and software. It is quite possible that OEMs might do a better job than Qualcomm in their software optimisation, but the fact that customers simply don't know what they can expect from two devices running both a 1GHz Snapdragon chip is likely to confuse and frustrate users.

Qualcomm could try to force its customers to take all of its software optimisations, but it probably knows that there are other chip vendors out there that will not be so pushy, even if it ends up with their customers' punters being disappointed. µ


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