Now that we’re into 2006, my computer is about six years old. I have upgraded certain components over the years (notably RAM and hard drives) but my original processors are still chugging along – dual Pentium III 600 MHz processors (x86 Family 6 Model 8 for those of you who like details). For the most part my computer is pretty responsive, and I do a good job of clearing up temp files, scanning for spyware and viruses, etc. Certain applications and tasks are starting to be noticeably slower though, which means a new computer is becoming more and more likely. My computer probably is doing things just as fast as a couple years ago, but it seems slower because of all the newer, faster machines I come into contact with. Faster machines that more and more frequently have more than one processor core.
To ring in the new year, Intel launched a massive rebranding complete with new logos and a new slogan, Leap Ahead. The company also announced a new focus and direction; one that includes muti-core processors at its heart. Here’s how Intel describes multi-core:
Intel multi-core architecture has a single Intel processor package that contains two or more processor “execution cores,” or computational engines, and delivers—with appropriate software—fully parallel execution of multiple software threads. The operating system (OS) perceives each of its execution cores as a discrete processor, with all the associated execution resources.
Essentially, more execution cores means you computer can do more things at once, and thus accomplish tasks faster. It was April of last year that Intel released their first dual core processor, and research on new multi-core projects (15 currently underway at Intel) has been feverish ever since. There haven’t been that many dual core processors sold yet, mainly because they are a bit too expensive still. That will change in 2006 though, as Intel forecasts “that more than 85 percent of our server processors and more than 70 percent of our mobile and desktop Pentium® family processor shipments will be multi-core–based by the end of 2006.”
Intel isn’t the only company betting on multi-core technology. In a recent interview with CNET News.com, AMD’s Chief Technology Officer confirmed that the company will be shipping quad-core processors by 2007. AMD has a good description of multi-core technology:
Multi-core processors enable true multitasking. On single-core systems, multitasking can max out CPU utilization, resulting in decreased performance as operations have to wait to be processed. On multi-core systems, since each core has its own cache, the operating system has sufficient resources to handle most compute intensive tasks in parallel.
Improvements are being made in software as well. The current versions of Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X will all be able to take advantage of the improved performance delivered by multi-core processors, and new iterations of the operating systems should improve things even more. Mac users will be happy that Apple is switching to Intel this year, opening the door for multi-core processors in Macintosh computers. Windows users will soon have Windows Vista available which will not only support multi-core processors, but other performance boosting technologies like hot-swappable USB key-based RAM too.
Let’s not forget that other system components are being improved too. The speed of memory, motherboards, hard drives, and other components are all increasing along with processor performance. All this and I haven’t even mentioned 64-bit technology yet! When you step back and look at the big picture, it’s clear that we’re on track for a huge performance boost.
If you’re going to be purchasing a new computer, the coming year is as good a time as any. The new multi-core systems that will be available are a far cry from my pokey old Pentium III’s, even if I do have two! The faster computers will usher in new applications and interfaces that take advantage of the increased horsepower, meaning you’ll see improvements across the board, from hardware to software.
Perhaps a year from now you won’t ask someone how fast their computer is. Instead, you might ask, how many cores do you have?