The processor of a tablet is probably one of the most important component in the whole tablet. The type and speed of a processor affects the overall functionality and performance of a tablet. Most tablet’s specifications will state the speed and number of cores of its processor, but when you dwell deeper into it, two processors with the same base specifications may have very different performance. Below are the typical processors used for tablets.
Most tablet uses the processor architecture produced by ARM, but ARM only does the designing of the basic processor architecture and then license those designs out to other manufacturers. This created the situation of similar ARM based processors manufactured by a wide range of manufacturers thus making comparisons more complicated than it should be. The good news is although each manufacturer can make some small changes to the design but for the most part, performance will be very similar between products within the same base design.
The most frequently used ARM processor designs within tablet PCs is based on Cortex-A. This series comprise of four different designs based on their performance and features. Below is a list of the four models and the features they have:
1. Cortex-A5 – Lowest power consumption, single core, frequencies between 300 and 800MHz.
2. Cortex-A8 – Modest processor with better media performance than A5, single or dual core, frequencies between 600MHz and 1.5GHz.
3. Cortex-A9 – Most popular processors, dual core or quad core, frequencies between 800MHz and 2GHz.
4. Cortex-A15 – The latest 32-bit design, dual core or quad core, frequencies between 1GHz and 2GHz.
Majority of the current tablets use 32-bit processing, but a number new tablets are starting to used 64-bit processing. This will affect the performance of the tablet in addition to clock speeds and might be the future trend for tablet applications.
x86 based processors are generally used in tablets running Microsoft Windows 8 operating system as the existing versions of Windows are written for this type of architecture. Microsoft also releases a Windows RT version to run on ARM processors but its not a popular choice for tablets at the moment.
Intel and AMD are the two major suppliers of x86 processors with Intel as the most popular choice due to their low power Atom processors. Intel offers a wide range of Atom processors with the Z series being the most commonly used in tablets because of their low power consumption and lower heat generation. Business class tablets currently on the market makes use of the i Core series processors that are used in laptops and desktops. Though they provide better performance, they does consume more power and thus a reduced runtime as compared with Atom processors.
As for AMD processors for tablets, they are based on AMD’s new fusion architecture called APU (Accelerated Processing Unit). There are 2 series for the tablets marktet, namely, Z series and A series.
Below is the types of x86 processors available for tablets list from the least to the most powerful performance.
Intel Atom Z2700 Series
AMD Fusion Z Series
Intel Atom Z3700 Series
AMD A4-1200 and Higher
AMD A6-1450 and Higher
Intel Core i3-3217U and Higher
Intel Core i3-4005U and Higher
Intel Core i5-3317U and Higher
Intel Core i5-4200U and Higher
In generaly, the faster the performance of the x86 processor, the more power it will consume and the more heat it will produce, resulting in bigger heatsink required to cool off the processor, which in turns translate to a larger and heavier tablet. In the same note, it will have a shorter battery life due to higher power consumption. The more powerful processors generally commands a higher price also.
Number of Cores of Processor
As most current software is written as multi-threaded to take advantage of multiple processors cores, higher number of cores of a processor generally translates to better performance. The operating system and software can allocate tasks to be run in parallel between different cores within a processor to help speed up the performance compared to running on a single core.
In addition to having multiple cores help speed up a single task, it can make an even bigger difference when the tablet is used to multitask. A good example of multitasking is using a tablet to listen to music while also surfing the web or reading an e-book/magazine. By having two or more processors over one, a tablet PC will be able to better handle the tasks by assigning each to an individual processor core rather than having to swap processes between a single processor core.
It is also not practical to have ”as many cores” as you like as it will also increase the size and power consumption of a tablet. As technology advances and when size and power consumption of multiple cores processor can be reduced further, we should be able to see more cores processors available for tablets in the future.