What are the Processor Cores in your Smartphone? 13

The processor is used in smartphones, tablets and other electronics. A microchip with a size of several mm regulates the operation of other components, processes and redistributes information. Most users do not care about the type of processor and the internal cores. Therefore, few will confidently explain what the processor core is and what functions it performs. Because of this, the erroneous opinion often arises that the cores in the smartphone processor are comparable in power and capabilities with the cores that are used in desktop processors on a PC.

In the article, we will tell you what the processor core is and what functions it performs. The information will be useful for a general understanding, and also useful to those who choose a new phone and want to learn more about the capabilities, differences and other features of the mobile processor.

What is the core in the processor

The core is an integral part of the central processor, which performs arithmetic and logical operations. Visually, the processor core looks like a block of transistors on a chip, and not a sphere, as one might imagine from the name.

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The configuration of the processor core determines the computing performance and processor power if only one computing unit is included. In multi-core processors, where there are 2 or more logical blocks, when calculating power, the capabilities of one block and the sum of the blocks used are taken into account.

How does the processor core

Each core inside the processor is a set of microscopic transistors located on a silicon crystal. The main work of transistors is to switch the supplied electrical energy. If energy is supplied, the transistor is in the open state. In the absence or lack of supplied energy – in a closed state.

In the understanding of man, the transistor is in the “On” or “Off” state, while in the understanding of the processor it is 1 or 0, respectively, which fits into the binary number system. Therefore, to access the processor, the commands are encoded from the decimal system to the binary system, and when the result is received, decoding is performed in the reverse order.

Accordingly, the number of transistors in a block affects the computing power and speed of the processor core. The “bus width” for data transfer, as well as the cache memory, for storing frequently used instructions and other data, also plays an important role.

Differences between the cores in the processor of the computer and the phone

Some owners of smartphones and tablets mistakenly believe that the processor of a mobile device is comparable or superior to the counterparts used in desktop PCs and laptops. As the given arguments, a comparable number of cores, close frequency or general capabilities are indicated. For example, on a phone, video in 4K resolution plays smoothly, and on a comparable PC or laptop – with a delay.

If you argue sensibly, certain tasks on the phone are faster than on the computer. This is due to various factors, including delays in the equipment used, technical condition and age. And another important factor is software optimization. In general, the best modern mobile processors hardly compete with desktop versions of the middle of the last decade. And all because they are two completely different processors, in terms of design and purpose.

Desktop processors are built on x86 architecture, and mobile processors on ARM. Under the architecture of the processor is understood a certain set of instructions that the processor is able to execute. X86 uses the type of processor architecture — CISC or “a computer with a full set of instructions,” while ARM uses RISC or a “computer with a reduced set of instructions”. In CISC, the length of the instruction set is not fixed, which allows you to set several actions for the processor at once. In RISC, the length of the instruction set is limited, and the actions are performed alternately. Moreover, the speed of execution of commands is faster due to simplicity.

The x86 architecture was originally designed to maximize performance. In ARM, the development focused on minimum production costs, low power consumption, and heat dissipation. Accordingly, only the necessary instructions are used in ARM, approximately 30% in comparison with x86. Therefore, some calculations supported by x86 processors are not available in ARM. Together with the difference in scaling, cache size, and frequency, the best ARM processors barely catch up with the entry-level Intel Celeron.

On the other hand, ARM chips are smaller, do not need massive cooling, and are even cheaper and more compact. In one case, in addition to the processor cores, a graphics accelerator, a signal processor, modems and modules for controlling wireless networks also fit. And power consumption is at least 10 times slower than the most economical desktop counterpart.

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Kernel Types and Layout

Smartphones and tablets are manufactured using multi-core processors based on the ARM Cortex-A architecture, where 2, 4 or 8 logic blocks are mainly used. Given the increasing requirements for multitasking and the possibility of distributing the load across multiple threads, the use of several computing units is a logical step, which can significantly increase productivity.

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At the same time, achieving the optimal balance in energy conservation and heat generation remains an important criterion. Since mobile devices are limited in the use of power supply of built-in batteries and are not designed for the installation of massive cooling systems. Therefore, in the production of the processor one or two types of cores are used – economical or economical and productive. Information about the types of cores is usually indicated on the official website of the manufacturer of the corresponding chip.

The economical type includes the core Cortex-A7, A35, A53, and A55. Such computing units are characterized by low power consumption and low performance. The most rational use tasks with a low load: viewing photos, navigating the menu, loading pages in a browser, etc.

Productive cores include Cortex-A9, A15, A57, A72, A73, A75, and A76 cores. In units of this type, performance is prioritized to the detriment of energy consumption. For comparison, one production unit is superior in power to 4 units of an economical type. Such cores are more often used in heavy scenarios: games, recording or playing 4K video, etc.

To achieve the optimal combination of performance and energy conservation, 8 economical units or 4 production and 4 economical units are more often installed. Moreover, in the first case, the 4 + 4 configuration is more often used, where one cluster of economic cores operate at an increased frequency, and the second cluster at a reduced frequency, for example, 1500 and 1000 MHz, 2400 and 1600 MHz. In the case of using a productive cluster of cores, usually high frequency in powerful cores.

At the same time, it is important to achieve optimal tuning and adjustment of computing units. It is correct to indicate which tasks it is better to use productive units, and in which economic ones. The scheduler handles this task. And the company, which worked better on the planner, will achieve high-quality performance and energy saving in its products.


Now you know what the core in the phone is and what the processor core is. The article allows you to superficially understand the structure and process of computing capabilities of the processor. And the main thing is to understand why desktop processors are superior in performance to the analogs installed in smartphones and other mobile electronics.

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