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Samsung: Pay no attention to that code behind the curtain

Jon Gold | Aug. 2, 2013
"Essentially, Samsung's cooking the books on its hardware."

Like educational experts who complain when instructors "teach to the test," to create positive report numbers rather than smarter kids, Android-watchers are angry with Samsung for doing much the same thing with its hardware this week.

A post on the Beyond3D forums prompted esteemed hardware blog AnandTech to investigate claims that Exynos Octa-based Samsung devices -- including some models of the Galaxy S4 -- ramp up their GPU and CPU substantially when they detect that one of a number of well-known benchmarks is being run, in order to provide more eye-catching statistics.

[Editor's note: The biggest Android news of the week should be Google's Moto X smartphone, which we've written about a number of times, but that is being formally announced later today (Thursday, Aug. 1).]

And it turns out that, in fact, such is the case. AnandTech even found a string called "BenchmarkBooster" in a system file, apparently designed to max out performance on common test suites. Uh oh.

The corporate response was a pretty uninspired example of the ostrich-in-the-sand school of public relations - "maximum GPU frequences for the Galaxy S4 have been varied to provide optimal user experience for our customers, and were not intended to improve certain benchmark results." It's particularly unconvincing when you consider that many of those certain benchmarks are actually referred to by name in Samsung's code, as uncovered by AnandTech.

Essentially, Samsung's cooking the books on its hardware. The overclocking prompted by "BenchmarkBooster" isn't triggered by most other apps -- like games and other stuff that people would actually want high performance for -- so the full horsepower of the Octa-powered S4 and its ilk are reserved only for making Samsung look good, not for actually providing a better user experience. (The only user-facing apps that do get the S4's full capacity Samsung's own pre-installed software, like S Browser.)

As AnandTech points out, this is further evidence of why users shouldn't rely too heavily on benchmarks to gauge performance -- but it's also evidence of Samsung going out of its way to muddy the waters. Like it or not, benchmarks are often a useful, semi-objective measurement of performance, and gaming the system makes everybody's life -- including those of Samsung's consumers -- just that much more complicated.

If you were struggling to put your finger on why Google's new Chromecast media streamer seemed more like an Android device than the name might suggest, here's another Androidian fact about it -- it's already been rooted, thanks to the people of GTV Hacker. (These helpful hackers also state explicitly that the device's software is Android-based.)

 

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