Phone maker Samsung has allegedly been boosting the performance figures of its flagship Galaxy S4 handset, by automatically overclocking the internal processors when popular benchmarking softrware is detected. According to a report over at Anandtech, when the Galaxy S4 with the eight core Exynos Octa chip in detects software such as GLBenchmark 2.5.1, Quadrant, a programming string called ‘BenchmarksBooster’ comes into effect and gives the phone a little pep talk.
When one of these benchmarks is detected, the CPU is set to run at its maximum frequency of 1.2GHz without dropping into an idle mode for as long as the app is running. The actual effect of this is pretty minimal, since any application can force the CPU to spin up to these speeds, it just means that there’s no delay as the clock speed change state changes. In a normal app, you’d expect to lose a few milliseconds as the processor adjusts its clockspeed to the workload required. Essentially, the processor should run flat out during benchmarking, but it should also change between fast and slow states at the start and end of the benchmarking run (at the very least). In real applications like games, the processor is constantly switching between battery saving low power modes and performance enhancing high power ones.
Anandtech’s findings on the graphics side of things is more damning, however. Apparently, the Galaxy S4 is able to set the clockspeed of the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) – the part of the chip that handles 3D rendering – to faster than the officially quoted clockspeed. It ‘overclocks’ the GPU in a way other apps can’t. The result is that to reviewers using those benchmarking suites, it looks like the S4 can produce more triangles per second than it ever actually will in real life.
According to the Anandtech findings, in these benchmarks the GPU is set to run at 532MHz, while for other apps it caps out at 480MHz.
If these allegations are true, does it matter? On one level, no. Practically speaking the Exynos is an excellent processor and real-world complaints of it not having the power to run apps are unheard of. Ethically, however, it is a very bad thing. In the world of PC gaming, for many years NVIDIA and AMD both included these kinds of underhand ‘optimisations’ designed to make their graphics cards look better – and sell better – than they actually were, and serious amounts of money were conned out of customers.
The big question is why would Samsung bother doing something similar in the mobile phone world. No-one buys a phone based on graphics processor performance. Games in the Play Store run on all top end smartphones, and in very few cases come close to taxing the hardware from a raw performance point of view. What’s more, any hacks like this would almost certainly get found out at some stage or another because most professional reviewers remember those awful days of intense NVIDIA/AMD rivalry and one of them is bound to look for it.
The upshot being that there’s no way this could have produced a big enough win for Samsung to counteract the shitstorm of negative press it’s now facing. Ultimately, we couldn’t agree more with the Anandtech team’s conclusion:
“We’ve said for years now that the mobile revolution has/will mirror the PC industry, and thus it’s no surprise to see optimizations like this employed. Just because we’ve seen things like this happen in the past however doesn’t mean they should happen now.”
These tricks don’t work, so just don’t bother.