If you’re an Android device manufacturer, the world is a very competitive place. Unless you have the budget that the likes of Samsung and Google have, differentiating yourself in an oversaturated market is not going to be easy.
Popular handset maker OnePlus, which just launched the OnePlus 5 to much fanfare, seems to have decided that cheating on benchmarks is the way forward. It’s just too bad that it got caught doing so, and not for the first time either.
The folks over at XDA Developers have been keeping tabs on device manufacturers who are cheating on benchmarks. In fact, XDA has even worked with benchmark maker Geekbench and chip maker Qualcomm to establish a realistic baseline for scores.
With this data in hand, and the fact that OnePlus, alongside other manufacturers like Samsung, was caught cheating on benchmarks with last year’s OnePlus 3T, XDA wasn’t all that surprised to find that OnePlus was cheating on benchmarks yet again.
Fool me once, shame on me
Last year, XDA reported that OnePlus built a mechanism into its OS that would check if certain benchmark programs were running. These programs were listed out in a manifest file. When the OS would detect a launch of said benchmarking app, it would simply keep the CPU cores operating at a higher clock speed.
All things being equal, clock speed has a direct impact on system performance. The higher the clock speed, the higher the performance.
Normally, the OnePlus 3T’s Snapdragon 821 platform should have been operating at 0.31 GHz when idling. In certain benchmarks, the 3T would boost the clock speed to 1.29 GHz and 0.98 GHz on the high performance and high efficiency cores respectively. The clocks would remain at that frequency regardless of load, but only when these benchmarking apps were running.
At that time, OnePlus’ cheating wasn’t so serious as the CPU scaling didn’t affect benchmarks by much. Operating temperatures were affected, but that was about it. XDA, in fact, suggests that these tweaks were the result of the HydrogenOS-OxygenOS merger.
Fool me twice, shame on you
This year’s attempt at cheating was a particularly heinous one, and not just for the fact that OnePlus cheated yet again.
This year, XDA discovered that the OnePlus 5’s OS was tweaked specifically to boost performance in benchmarks. This is bad enough, but worse still, OnePlus appears to have applied this hack specifically to review devices. These are devices that OnePlus has handed out to various tech reviewers, publications and bloggers around the world.
Clearly, the intent was to mislead reviewers, and by extension, customers. The lack of respect for the company’s own ardent fans and followers speaks volumes about the company’s attitude.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 platform uses a ‘big.LITTLE’ architecture. The ‘big’ cores are high performance cores that are designed to take on heavy loads while consuming a lot of power. The ‘LITTLE’ cores are high efficiency cores that consume less power and run routine tasks.
This design ensures that power is available to applications that need it, but also that power isn’t wasted. The clock speed of the cores themselves are adjusted by governors, which determine how much power is required at any given moment.
Say you’re opening an app, a larger amount of processing power will be required at that time. The governor will raise clock speeds for that half second that the performance is needed. It will then throttle the speeds down to idle once there’s no load on the CPU. These performance spikes are normal and necessary for an optimal balance between performance, operating temperature and battery life.
While last year’s cheat raised prevented the CPU from idling when certain benchmarks were run, this year’s cheat specifically locks the LITTLE cores in a maximum performance state for the duration of the benchmark, regardless of load. “It is through this cheat that OnePlus achieves some of the highest GeekBench 4 scores of a Snapdragon 835 to date,” says XDA.
The targeted benchmarks include AnTuTu, Androbench, Geekbench 4, GFXBench, Quadrant, Nenamark 2 and Vellamo. XDA points out that OnePlus targeted these applications the last time as well.
Here’s how XDA describes OnePlus’ actions, “We polled the CPU frequency every 100 ms, and in total, only 24.4 percent of readings returned the maximum frequency of 1.9 GHz when disabling cheating. Meanwhile, the run with enabled cheating spent a staggering 95 percent of readings in its maximum frequency state.” The report also indicated that operating temperatures hit over 50 degrees Celsius in GPU-intensive benchmarks.
The report points out that the performance gains due to the cheating only amount to around 5 percent, but that they were enough to make the OnePlus 5 seem like the fastest Android device on the planet.
OnePlus defended its actions with a rather disingenuous statement to XDA in which it claimed that it was “displaying the performance potential of the OnePlus 5”. Yes, that’s utter rubbish, and everyone knows it.
OnePlus should have had more respect for its customers. The company’s short-sighted attempt to grab eyeballs before the launch of its flagship product has only served to discredit it.