Granted, you have to give props to AMD and Intel for coming up with new and upon first sight worthwhile incentives to go out and buy a new PC, or upgrade an older one. Dual core and quad core processors are all the rage at the moment and both companies are advocating the need for these new processors as according to their marketing departments two processors can do more than one, and four Ö well, you get the point. But at the risk of repeating myself, although some things obviously need repeating, donít expect to see any major leaps in performance from these. Two cores donít mean twice the performance, nor do four cores quadruple the performance. Confusing? Not really, just a different game altogether, a few years ago things were clear-cut and obvious, every increase in processor clockspeed equaled better performance, or rather all software would automatically take advantage of the faster execution. So basically more MHz meant more performance, simple really.
Not today though, youíd think that two processor cores running side by side would surely be faster than a single core right? And four cores working simultaneously would certainly run circles around it? Well no, only if the application that you are running is multithreaded and thus can take advantage of the extra cores, remember that about 99% of all software available today is programmed to run on a single core processor. Hence isnít multithreaded and thus in the vast majority of cases you wonít see a speed up, as the second, third or fourth core is just sitting there idling, or handling simple operating system tasks that donít eat up a lot of processing power in the first place. But wait a minute, you must have that backwards, dual and quad core processors speed up your operating system considerably and hence overall performance goes up. Well, no again, if running the operating system was such a resource hog and would eat up heaps and heaps of CPU-cycles then the difference between a 1GHz Pentium III and a 3GHz Dual Core processor would be astronomical wouldnít it, well, rest assured, it isnít.
So whatís needed to get these dual and quad core processors to offer genuine leaps in performance and make us forget about single core processors altogether? Well, basically the same thing that needs to happen with 64-bit support: software needs to be written, or a whole lot less likely, rewritten, to take advantage of these extra cores. And most software we use today, that includes your favorite browser, email client, etc. is not going to see much of a speedup, if any, from these optimizations. No, for dual and quad core processors to show their strengths you need some heavy applications that can benefit from parallel execution such as video and photo editing software, games, simulation and CAD/CAM software, etc. Donít expect the mundane office applications most of us use during the day to run any faster though. So without software support dual and quad core processors simply are not going to shine, theyíll just be a novelty.
And unlike slapping on a few extra cores which is relatively easy, writing software to make use of these extra cores isnít. So for the next few years weíll be left wanting while the majority of the dual and quad core processors are idling until software finally catches up. Keep that in mind when youíre thinking about spending some of those hard earned savings on a new PC equipped with a top-of-the-line quad core processor.