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13 Jun 12 Android performance boosted 30-100 percent by Linaro toolchain

Linaro’s efforts have boosted Android’s performance, delivering an improvement of 30 to 100 percent in various benchmarks. They achieved these impressive gains by adapting Android 4 so that it could be built with their improved GCC toolchain.

We first wrote about Linaro in 2010 when the non-profit organization was founded by a consortium of hardware and software companies, including ARM, Samsung, TI, and Canonical. Linaro has worked to improve the quality of Linux on the ARM architecture, focusing largely on hardware-enablement and tooling.

The group is closely aligned with Ubuntu, but the improvements that it is driving offer benefits for the broader ecosystem of platforms and distributions that are deployed on ARM hardware. They have done a lot of work upstream in GCC (the GNU Compiler Collection) to open the door for better ARM optimization in Linux and other open source software.

Linaro’s GCC improvements have been producing measurable performance advantages over Google’s stock Android environment and build toolchain since late last year. Google is reportedly accepting some of these improvements in the upstream Android Open Source Project and independent developers are also looking to put them to use.

As a recent blog post at Liliputing pointed out, Linaro improvements are being merged in Cyanogen, a popular third-party ROM that is maintained through a community-driven process. Enthusiasts have already started generating device-specific builds that incorporated the Linaro patches. A Linaro build for the Galaxy Nexus, for example, was published this week on reddit (disclosure: reddit is a cousin site of Ars).

If you are looking for more information about Linaro, or want to get involved, you can find out more by visiting the organization’s website or checking out the Linaro projects that are hosted on the Launchpad collaboration site.

Update: updated to indicate that Google is merging the improvements, based on a Google+ comment made by Google engineer Jean-Baptiste Queru.

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11 Jun 12 Intel: ARM, Android far behind x86 when it comes to multi-threaded optimizations


The director of Intel’s mobile products division, Mike Bell, has leveled some interesting charges at the company’s ARM-using competitors in the Android smartphone market. Bell, an engineer who spent time at both Apple and Palm before moving to Intel, claims that the major smartphone players have done precious little work to optimize their software for multi-threaded environments.

According to Bell, Intel’s own investigation into the state of multi-processing support in Android turned up a number of deficiencies. Some of the problems can be traced back to manufacturing and the difficulty of controlling current leakage, but others point to poorly optimized thread schedulers and inefficient data structures.

“The way it’s implemented right now, Android does not make as effective use of multiple cores as it could,” Bell told The Inquirer. “I think — frankly — some of this work could be done by the vendors who create the SoCs, but they just haven’t bothered to do it.”

Intel is scarcely a neutral third party, but in this case, we’re inclined to take Bell at his word. His background is in engineering, rather than PR/product evangelism, and the comments themselves make sense. ARM and Android have become ubiquitous precisely because they allow Samsung, Qualcomm, TI, and Nvidia to reap the benefits of research and product development without being directly responsible for the implementation. Intel’s massive software development resources exemplify the opposite approach, and the company’s silicon is quite competitive with ARM devices.

Intel’s software advantage isn’t really x86 compatibility, at least not primarily. The company’s true ace card is the expertise of its software engineers and the scale of its development environment. The fact that its many forms of expertise revolve around the x86 instruction set is nearly incidental. Of its competitors, only Nvidia has much experience in low-level development.

The other reason we take Bell’s criticisms fairly seriously is that they make logical sense. It’s easy to forget that Android is a very young operating system. Dual-core phones are everywhere these days, but the first DC devices shipped less than two years ago. The kind of ultra-low-level optimizations Bell is discussing aren’t something Google can build for each and every device manufacturer — they depend on the specifics of the SoC and, in theory, would be custom built by the relevant OEM. Relying on Google may have worked to date, but it’s unlikely to be effective for much longer.

These type of optimizations become more important as core counts increase. It can be more power-efficient to use four slow cores rather than two fast ones, but only if the OS is efficient enough to leverage all four threads. If it isn’t, the consumer gets a slower device with worse battery life.

Intel smartphone roadmap

More than anything, Intel’s comments are a sign that the company is deadly serious about matching and exceeding its competitors. Medfield demonstrated Intel’s commitment on hardware, but discussions of low-level software optimizations are a different animal. To date, other OEMs have gotten away with limited software customization thanks to ARM and Google. Everything we’ve seen to date suggests that Cortex-A15 and 28nm are the last low-hanging fruit vendors will see for several years. With Intel planning dual-core Clover Trail tablets for later this year and a 22nm Silvermont refresh dropping in 2013, the various ARM vendors will need to look to such optimizations to continue competing effectively.

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04 Jun 12 ViewSonic VCD22 22-inch Android Smart Display hands-on

ViewSonic VCD22 22inch Android Smart Display handson

Call it what you will: a 22-inch Android tablet or an ARM-based desktop. Whatever nomenclature you prefer, this much is true: the Viewsonic VCD22 is an odd bird. Though it looks like just another all-in-one desktop, it packs a TI OMAP processor and runs Android 4.0, making it one of the largest mother-loving slates we’ve ever seen. With a starting price of $479, Gigabyte is hoping budget-minded families will snap it up, or maybe schools looking for a simple system to host interactive lessons for the kiddies. Is this ultimately a better option for classrooms than that new Chromebox we reviewed this week? We’ll save that debate for another day but for now, we’ve got hands-on photos and video of this guy in action. Meet us past the break for a closer look.

Where else would we begin this hands-on but with that 22-inch display? The resolution is 1920 x 1080, which is about what you’d expect on a machine this size, and with a price this low. Though it doesn’t have IPS to improve the viewing angles, we actually had no problem following along with an onscreen demonstration while standing a few feet away, and off to the side. That bodes well for schools that are thinking of installing these in classrooms.

Lying underneath that slim frame is an ARM processor — not exactly what you’d expect to find inside an all-in-one desktop. That chip is part of TI’s dual-core OMAP 4000 series, and it’s helped by 1GB of RAM. As modest as those specs sound, they’re plenty sufficient for powering Ice Cream Sandwich, so far as we can tell. The screen responded very smoothly to our various taps and swipes, and the machine was quick to launch and minimize apps.

From a software standpoint, that is Android 4.0, as we mentioned, though it’s still not clear to what extent Gigabyte is going to customize the snot out of it. The demo unit we saw had lots of widgets peppering the home screen, including some tailored toward kids and families. Still, Android fans will appreciate that the core OS itself has remained unchanged; it’s just more cluttered than your Nexus handset. A company rep also told us that Gigabyte plans on bundling the machine with educational apps such as audio story books, but that might well vary depending on whether the system is being sold to schools or individual consumers.

Zach Honig contributed to this report.

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