Dual-core? You can?t handle dual-core

Here's the most exciting thing about dual-core processors right now: they improve your smartphone's battery life. Am I really boring, or is it dual-core chips that are really boring?

Like the megapixels arms race of just three years ago when the coolest thing about your phone was its camera (oh, we were such children!), the dual-core 1GHz chips that were all the rage at Mobile World Congress are yet another way for smartphone owners to one up each other.

It's true that by the end of next year, dual-core will be a given in any decent phone, but is there any point to releasing (and buying) them now? The Optimus 2X was officially the first, but it was soon joined by LG's Optimus 3D, a smartphone that doesn't require special glasses to view in glorious full dimensionality.

Motorola was hot on their heels with the Atrix smartphone and Xoom tablet packing dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 chips - both devices are high-powered mini-computers packed with swishy effects and in the case of the Xoom, the very first incarnation of Google's tab-only (sort of) Android Honeycomb OS.

And there are several more on the way - Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, Asus Eee Pad, Dell Streak 7, LG Optimus Pad and Acer Iconia will all pack dual-core goodness.

The two cores on the chip split the load of your running apps between them, resulting in a theoretical increase in performance of about 70%. But what are we actually doing with all this power?

For the bulk of us, not a whole lot. "There are certain high-intensity apps - gaming, video calling, HD and 3D video capture - that would benefit from a dual-core processor," says Stuart Robinson, Director of Handset Component Technologies at Strategy Analytics. But as for the 'regular' stuff, confirms Robinson, there's no noticeable difference. That's email, web, texting, social networking... you know, the stuff you probably use your phone for.

Then there's the fact you need the software to fully take advantage of this. The device's OS and apps need to be optimised for 'multi-threading' - how each core handles, or 'threads', a particular process.

No currently available OS - Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Phone 7 - is optimised for multithreading. So is there any point to getting one of those dual-core devices now?

Not according to Sravan Kundojjala, also of Strategy Analytics, who explains that you won't get the full whammy of dual-core deliciousness till the next generation of smartphone OSes.

"You should wait for the iPhone 5, iPad 2, the Android Ice Cream handsets," he says. BlackBerry's Playbook will also pack a fully multi-core, multi-thread optimised OS when it launches. "These are truly optimised and exploit all the GHz packed into those [multiple] cores." (Luckily, if you do succumb to a current-gen dual-core handset, a software upgrade will grant your device those same powers - in time.)

But don't forget about the extended battery life - two cores in the here and now allows each to run more slowly (many hands make light work, you know), resulting in lower overall juice usage. Which I should add, in response to query, is in comparison to an equivalent performance on a single core device.

For anyone who's approached the end of the day trembling as their iPhone 4 or HTC Desire HD edges unstoppably to battery death, that's actually pretty amazing.

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