Quad-core vs hexa-core – why a sports car is not always faster than a hatchback

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In logistics or the trade sector, optimised internal mechanisms are a key part of high-quality production processes.

The question of storage location, for example, can be answered through consistent material monitoring or by identifying parts at important stages of the production and administration process. Given the first variant requires monitoring all the manufacturing facility's means of transport, it is suitably complex.

Many dealers and logisticians thus rely on mobile data collection, in which scanners read 1D or 2D codes or RFID tags to detect where goods are located, how many goods there are, and the time at which they are located. The data-collection devices available today are adapted to modern requirements, and fitted with either quad-core or hexa-core processors. Both variants have their pros and cons, which all need to be weighed up when choosing the right scanner.

Not all processors are the same

Both quad-core and hexa-core processors are multi-core processors, i.e. microprocessors which combine more than one complete main processor core in a single chip. Multi-core processors have been developed to enable greater processing power. Costs also play a critical role here, as it is cheaper to fit just one processor base on the motherboard, which multiple processor cores then plug into. Multi-core processing has been on everyone's lips for many years as a result of the considerable advantages it offers. Once the first quad-core processors became available, it was soon apparent that they would significantly and easily speed up work processes.

While the aim has always been to fully maximise processor performance, the performance gain does have its limits. After all, it depends heavily on implementation and the structure of the software algorithms used. If databases supplied with available data come into play, additional mechanisms need to be looked at. According to Amdahl's law – a model for accelerating programs through parallel design -, the speed increase/performance gain is limited by the amount of software capable of being parallelised.

The model examines the relationship between the proportion of the program which can be processed in parallel and the acceleration resulting from parallel processing. And it is this very observation which is required in order for a multi-core CPU (Central Processing Unit) to be maximised. In general, hexa-core processors can achieve a greater performance gain than quad-core processors. Apparently.

A comparison from everyday life

If the hexa-core processor represents a sports car with 350 hp, and the quad-core processor a hatchback with 82 hp, it shouldn't be hard to work out which car reaches a faster speed on the highway and gets the driver to their destination quicker. Apparently. In peak hour, however, both vehicles are stuck in traffic jams for the same amount of time, and proceed at the same speed. Stop-start. If the sports car and hatchback have a breakdown on the way and have to stop in the emergency lane to wait for help, they both wait for the same amount of time.

But as sports cars often contain special parts, it may require a special workshop to repair its damage, while the hatchback could potentially be back on the road that same day. In this case, the hatchback will be faster than the sports car. What this comparison shows is that there are always additional conditions which play a role in the overall picture. Processor availability is a particularly important factor in the direct comparison.

Thinking ahead

As more and more companies are starting to work with data-collection devices which combine the advantages of a modern Smartphone with mobile data recording, it is also important to take into account the device's life cycle. Smartphone life cycles these days are getting shorter, as the focus in the telecommunications industry is different to what it is in retail and logistics. When designing and developing new handheld terminals and scanners, a common requirement is that the product must be state-of-the-art, but also durable.

As such, the processor it is operating with must also have long-term availability. The hexa-core processor is already reaching its limits in this respect. It is well possible for a device to be launched on the market in early 2017, but for the hexa-core processor installed in it to no longer be available by the end of 2017. Updates can, of course, be performed, but this requires time and resources – something commercial enterprises want to avoid if not absolutely necessary. There is currently no indication that the conventional quad-core processors installed in modern mobile data-collection devices will stop being available in the short term.

In the end it always comes down to humans

The user-device relationship must be the main priority when purchasing new data-collection devices. The applications for which a handheld terminal or scanner is to be used are also crucial. The processing power of a quad-core processor is very high, and compatibility with other systems and devices is largely guaranteed, though must always be checked separately. Comparing only the measurement values, the hexa-core processor yields faster results, but its product life cycle is much shorter, and its availability is not guaranteed. Both processors are reliable. But what's the point of an advanced hexa-core CPU if other components haven't been adapted?

That's why, when choosing a data-collection device with quad-core or hexa-core processor, it is important to always consider whether, for example, it is going to be performing table calculations or whether high resolution for games and graphics is more of a priority. The answer appears obvious – yet the system interface is ultimately never the processor; it's the humans. They are the ones who decide whether they want to get to their destination in a sports car or hatchback. Nowadays, all data-collection devices need to be able to do more and more. But a device is only ever as good as the person operating it. And in the end, they are the most important and ultimate authority in the mix of performance gain, speed and processing.

Infobox:

The DENSO Auto-ID Business Unit has been operating on the European market for more than 30 years, and specialises in mobile data collection in all its facets. The scanners and handheld terminals produced by the company, which is part of the Toyota Group, meet today's high standards in the retail and logistics industries, as well as in the transport, production, field & sales force automation, and health sectors.

The BHT-1600 with quad-core processor was recently launched on the market. Before this originally Japanese company's scanner was able to be released, there were clear specifications requiring that the product be state-of-the-art, but also durable. The BHT-1600 is a scanner and company Smartphone in one – with a quad-core processor which delivers optimum results, and has already managed to impress many customers by catering to their every need.

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