Tablets with low power dual-core chips have started reaching the market, but some chip makers expect the devices to be further supercharged later this year with quad-core chips which were in the spotlight at the Computex trade show in Taipei.
Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments discussed new quad-core ARM-based chips and said that tablets powered by these chips may reach shelves starting later this year. The chips will also go into lightweight laptops, smartphones and devices such as handheld gaming consoles that need speedy performance.
Major tablet makers have not yet announced quad-core tablets, and analysts said it could be a while before the devices are adopted. Nvidia said at the show that it is working with device makers, but did not disclose names.
The chips will run applications faster and turn tablets into multimedia powerhouses. However, quad-core chips could be power hogs, and tablet applications may need to be rewritten to take full advantage of the hardware features, which could be a challenge, according to the analysts.
Nvidia demonstrated a tablet running on its upcoming quad-core Tegra chip code-named Kal-El, which the company said will provide better graphics performance while consuming less power. TI's new OMAP4470 and Qualcomm's Snapdragon APQ8064 offer better overall performance and can run on tablets with Microsoft's upcoming Windows operating system.
Quad-core chips could make tablets formidable and bring a PC-like experience, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. However, the faster performance will come at the cost of power, as continuous use of all CPUs could drain battery quickly.
Intense applications such as high-definition graphics are notoriously power hungry, and dual-core tablets already offer strong multimedia and application performance, King said.
"I wouldn't expect to see tablets powered by quad-core chips in the near term," King said.
Tablets may not immediately need quad-core processors, but the chips will be used to differentiate devices, said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat.
"[Tablets] will have them because of an effort to differentiate on performance. Don't get me wrong, they will probably make sense in the future as usage models and applications on the devices change," McGregor said.
The viability of quad-core chips in tablets also depends on how effectively applications take advantage of the hardware features. A basic advantage of quad-core in contrast to dual-core processors is the ability to wrest greater chip performance by efficiently spreading tasks over twice as many cores.
"That depends on how effectively developers can rewrite programs to best leverage those technologies. Historically, a radical shift in core count has usually demanded a steep learning curve for programmers," King said.
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