Android and The 64-Bit: When, How, and Why

If you are a regular reader of Xataka Android safe that you already read our article “64-bit on Android, there is still a long way to go” in which noted the current state of the Android market and the arrival of the 64-bit to the platform.

In it we analyze the parts needed to take that out and gave a few brushstrokes that hinted that until next year we would not see the arrival of this technology to Android.

In the past MWC 2014 there have been developments in the respect in the world of chip makers, Qualcomm presenting their new Snapdragon 610 and 615, so we want to recapitulate and back to keep an eye on the State of Android and the 64-bit: When, how and why.

Android and the 64-bit: when?

As well we discussed in our previous article the arrival of the 64-bit technology requires the movement of many participants and, while having to support 64-bit hardware, Mediatek or Snapdragon processors have already been announced, is Google that has to move.

Is likely that the next major Android update, Perhaps Android 5.0, the final version in which we see the arrival of the kernel with 64-bit support as standard.

Today Intel is working on a version of Android with 64-bit support, perfect for its last Atom, but it is a very isolated case.

Android and the 64-bit: how?

Android must implement a kernel with 64-bit support as well as Dalvik VM either virtual machine that runs out, for example implementing ART. An application written in Java will run without any problem in a 64-bit system when the virtual machine, well Dalvik VM or ART, is optimized to take advantage of chips of 64-bit, in this way you can recompile it with support for that platform.

In the case of native applications, would have to adapt them for support of the inherent characteristics of the 64-bit, What is an effort to more costly in time for a developer since, depending on the type of application could run even slower in 64-bit processors if it is not well optimized.

It is difficult to give a window of time to make this happen, but, although Google could move tab in a matter of months, the mammoth step in this process, the development and adaptation of the millions of Android applications could take years.

Android and the 64-bit: why?

This question is one of the big questions of current technology and we will try to answer it easily starting with is a transition that is happening at the level hardware and software can leverage its advantages, offering a better final performance for the user.

Samsung, Qualcomm and Mediatek are beginning to offer processors with 64-bit support, and while there are not many differences between 32- and 64-bit processors at a generic level, there is usually a range of improvement at the runtime of the application when we move to a 64-bit environment.

Don’t talk about double speed as many believe that 64-bit is the 32-bit double, but there is a room for large enough improvement so that developers worry of it.

To understand the first point of this improvement in the arrival of the 64-bit we have to focus on CPU architecture and memory. Operations that are carried out and from the RAM are very slow compared to the speed with which the CPU processes. Let’s do a comparison:

Suponed that the CPU is a librarian whose task is to organize the books on shelves (memory). Order books in alphabetical manner is something that the librarian is very fast, head (CPU internal registers), and the bottleneck of this operation comes to be approaching the shelving of unordered books and bring them to the corresponding shelves.
That slow down the process and more often have to reach the shelves are all such transactions with memory (both the disordered and the final) the operation will be longer.
Now is when the 64-bit system, which allows obtain each walk to the Bookshelf of origin, carry more books so that the librarian can sort them (faster mentally through registers and 64-bit extensions), will also lead them to final shelves faster giving the option of grouping them in small groups, saving you walks and making faster general operation.

The pace of improvement at the time move from 32 to 64 bit in a program in question will depend on the type of application and how the compiler optimizes for this new environment, there are improvements in the majority of cases of between 30% and 60%.

As example we are going to mention the case of Apple, who has taken the first step in smartphones to 64-bit with its latest iPhone 5S already comprising a chip and OS with this architecture. Found that a 32-bit application and the 64-bit version have a 33% performance difference, i.e., will run a third faster or what is the same, if before it took a 10 seconds to perform a particular operation, now would take 6.6 seconds.

The second improvement of this new architecture is enabling 64-bit pointers redirect more RAM, i.e., while a system with 32-bit processor can handle without problems up to 3 GB of RAM, a 64-bit system can be managed much more memory.

There is to remember that there is already in the market Android devices that are using the maximum manageable RAM by the 32-bit systems, Galaxy Note 3, for example. This makes the arrival of 64-bit of a respite at the level of hardware for manufacturers, who are with this barrier of RAM addressing with the traditional 32-bit environment.

Most programs will use more memory in 64-bit to 32-bit

However, is not gold that glitters with 64-bit pointers. Most programs will use more memory than that it used in 32-bit. As a general rule a 64-bit application takes up more space in memory than one 32-bit, and according to the optimization of it, could even run slower as it did on PC with Oracle JVM.

As you can see, it is a subject that depends on many factors and, even though it offers a remarkable performance thanks to the three points mentioned enhancement:

  • Improvement in CPU registers
  • More addressable memory space
  • Support of more amount of RAM (> 3GB for 32-bit)

In addition to this we must also discuss 64-bit processors are capable of running 32-bit applications for what would not be side the entire current ecosystem of applications, that run without taking advantage of this 64-bit environment.

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