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New Meizu Android phone packs 10 ARM CPU cores you probably don’t need

We used to think having two CPU cores in a smartphone was really impressive, but that’s nothing compared to what mobile hardware engineers are cranking out these days. Octa-core CPUs are commonplace, but MediaTek is continuing its push with a deca-core processor in the latest phone from Meizu. The Meizu PRO 6 is the first phone to ship with the MediaTek Helio X25, packing ten ARM CPU cores in three different groups. Sure, it sounds impressive, but it is actually going to do anyone any good?

Meizu is a Chinese electronics maker that has gained ground in recent years by offering midrange and high-end Android devices for competitive prices. The new Meizu PRO 6 is one of the most powerful phones the company has ever made on paper. It has a 5.2-inch 1080p Super AMOLED pressure-sensitive touchscreen, 4GB of RAM, and a 21MP Sony camera sensor. What everyone is interested in is the new MediaTek Helio X25 system-on-a-chip (SoC) with the 10-core CPU.

This isn’t the first time MediaTek has offered a 10-core CPU in one of its chips. The Helio X20 had the same core configuration, but this version is clocked ever higher. There are three CPU clusters in the Helio X25. The most powerful is the pair of ARM Cortex-A72 CPUs clocked at 2.5GHz. These are the ones that fire up when you’re pushing the phone. The next step down are the four Cortex-A53 CPUs clocked at 2.0GHz. Finally, there’s another cluster of Cortex-A53 CPUs clocked at just 1.4GHz. The S25 also has a slightly faster Mali GPU than MediaTek used in the past.

Helio-X25-Mediatek-deca-core

MediaTek argues that a 10-core CPU is more efficient because it can split workloads across the clusters where it makes the most sense. The power-hungry A72s can snooze while the middle and lower tier clusters take care of background tasks. You can certainly generate data in a laboratory setting that a 10-core, tri-cluster CPU saves power compared to an octa-core with just two clusters, but the problem is app support. Most third-party apps aren’t even configured to take advantage of eight cores, let alone ten of them. Increasing the clock speed also means more heat, and that limits how many cores can run at a time. As a result, processes end up bouncing back and forth between clusters because they can’t all run at the same time. Task scheduling gets more complicated and inefficient at that point.

We’ve seen time and time again that there’s only a marginal difference in performance once you get past four cores. The optimization of the software plays a much larger role than the number of CPU cores. So, why push a 10-core CPU in the first place? It’s mainly marketing, and the number of CPU cores is a huge selling point in the Chinese smartphone market. The more cores, the better it sells.

The Meizu PRO 6 might end up being a great phone for the people who buy it, but it won’t be because it has ten CPU cores.

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