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  Intel's dual core processors, sizzling hot snake oil? 
  Apr 05, 2005, 08:00am EDT 
 
By: Sander Sassen

The dual core processors Intel introduced yesterday usher in a new marketing onslaught, the task at hand for all the marketing firms that joined Intel's ranks is to convince the consumer that dual core is needed to make your computing experience a better one. Just like a previous Intel processor that was said to enhance your internet experience by adding a few SIMD instructions to its instruction set the dual core processor will be advertised in much the same way. In reality dual core processors are yesterday's news, parallel processing is one of the oldest tricks in the book to boost the performance of a computer system by having two processors handle optimized code. The last two words of that last sentence actually hold the key; optimized code. Run a dual core processor on the Windows XP platform and you won't see any speed-up, or at least nothing that's perceivable by the naked eye.

This has been the problem with most new technologies anyway, processors have gone from 1.5 to 3GHz in a few years time yet Windows XP doesn't seem to run any faster. The benchmarks say that the 3GHz machine handily beats the 1.5GHz, often by 100% but to the end user those are just numbers in magazine, or on a website, the truth is that his perception of the speed increase is marginal, if even noticeable. Same goes for all of these new technologies said to enhance his computing experience, all of the speed gained by these goes unused with 99% of the users for 99% of the time. If, and that's a big if, the technology is supported in the first place. Remember HyperThreading, the much touted logical dual processing scheme that Intel devised a few years ago, it too was said to have a glorious future by speeding up game play when you surf the net and are encoding your home videos whilst webcamming with a relative.

But wait, haven't you ever played a game when surfing the net and in the meantime encoded a video whilst webcamming? Frankly we haven't either; most people do one or two things at a time on their PC, a task for which a single-threaded processor will work just fine. And to make matters worse for Intel, software optimized to make use of HyperThreading was far and few in between, in most cases turning on HyperThreading would even reduce the performance of a machine rather than improving it. Dual core processors are not much different; instead of one hot Prescott processor you now have another fiery Prescott processor on the same die, driving the power dissipation up to 130-watts. Whether that second processor will just eat up power and heat the room or actually do some work for you will solely depend on whether it runs on optimized code. On the desktop there's virtually no such code today, other than that which was developed for HyperThreading and true SMP processors.

So what are we looking at here? Will dual core processors take the market by storm and obsolete all single threaded processors overnight? Hardly, as we've outlined before; in essence it comes down to the simple fact that most applications that we use on the desktop today are not SMP capable, hence they can't make efficient use of a dual core processor. In most cases, with non-SMP-aware applications, the second core will simply be sitting there doing nothing most of the time, but consume power and add more heat, with the first core handling the entire load. Until optimized code is available these dual core processors are really nothing more than sizzling hot snake oil, no more, no less.

Sander Sassen.

 

  Comments 
 
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 Last Post 
Re: dual core processors, a matter of marketing rather than technical innovation Joseph Kosuda 0 replies Apr 28, 2005, 06:06am EDT
Re: Intel�s dual core processors, sizzling hot snake oil? some guy 15 replies May 04, 2005, 02:34am EDT
Most applications that we use on the desktop today are NOT multithreaded? Beg to Differ Alexander Kowalski 23 replies Mar 31, 2006, 01:52pm EST
Re: Intel’s dual core processors, sizzling hot snake oil? Chris McGee 12 replies Apr 25, 2005, 06:43am EDT

 

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