Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Samsung caught cheating on Galaxy S4 benchmarks

Just the other day I was talking with some friends about the "good old days" of the dawn of the GPU cards on the PCs, when Nvidia and ATI would resort to all sorts of cheats to gain a few extra frames per second on benchmarks - usually by detecting the name of the program you were running and applying some "special tweaks" (like silently dropping some quality options) to be faster. You could even simply rename a game to have the same name as a benchmark program to make it go faster!

You'd think those days were long gone and that  manufacturers would know that sort of things wouldn't go unnoticed now (as it didn't back then)... but you'd be wrong. Samsung has decided to use identical techniques to make its Galaxy S4 look better than the competition.

The trick is quite simple to understand. Mobile CPUs and GPUs can adjust its speed according to the needs in order to reduce power consumption whenever possible. On the Exynos SoC, Samsung allows the GPU to go up to 480Mhz. But the thing is that when it detects you're running some of the most popular benchmark apps, it pushed the GPU speed up to 532Mhz - a value you won't be able to achieve using any "regular" app.

It's the kind of trick we wouldn't expect to see such a high-profile company resort to, and that will damage its credibility among the tech crowd - after launching a bugged Exynos CPU.

Curiously enough, there are other types of benchmarks where manufacturers use the exact opposite approach. In FurMark, a benchmark designed to use as much power (and heat) as possible and, there are brands that limit the maximum clock frequency to less than what it can actually achieve, so that it heats less and consumes less power.

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