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Front Page » August 28, 2007 » Tech Tips » The move to multi-core processing
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The move to multi-core processing

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Sun Advocate/Progress Network Administrator

Virtually everyone knows how fast the computer industry changes. Sometimes it seems trends change overnight, and what was the "top of the line" quickly becomes old news.

One of the biggest changes in recent years is the industry's move to multi-core processors.

Unfortunately many consumers don't even know what a processor is, let alone what multi-core means or how it might benefit them.

The processor is central to the PC and is directly connected to the center of the PC's mainboard, or motherboard.

The microprocessor, as it is often called, is one of the most essential parts of a PC, as it is is what executes the code that makes the computer's operating system and it's applications run.

Processors also coordinate communication and prioritization of all the devices inside a computer, ensuring that they're not all talking at the same time or conflicting with one another.

As a result, most of the devices base their timing off the clock speed of the processor, which in today's world is generally measured in gigahertz (GHz).

Interestingly, a 3 GHz processor can execute 3 billion instructions per second! But as fast as that seems, the industry has reached a bottleneck - they can't seem to rush electrons through the processor, which is made of high quality conductive metals, fast enough.

To combat the problem, processor manufacturers like Intel and AMD have chosen to pursue multi-core technologies.

A multi-core processor simply has 2 or more processing units on the same die, or silicon chip.

In more illustrative terms, think of the processor as a human being hired to perform some sort of labor intensive job. At some point, the person simply can't work any faster than they're already working.

So the company hires another equally capable employee to help him perform the labor.

Now, two processor cores won't make the computer process information twice as fast. Speed increases over regular, single-core processors vary between anywhere from 20 to 80 percent, depending on the exact situation.

The explanation for this discrepancy can be found in the overhead needed to perform load balancing between the two processor cores.

For example, if a company has hired a second person to help the first, one of the two must spend part of his or her time trying to divvy out equal portions of work between the two of them.

From an operating system's point of view, the computer simply has two processors.

The computer's operating system must be multi-processor capable, however, to operate properly. Windows XP has limited support for multiple processors. Linux and Apple's latest OS-X also come with multi-processor support.

The Intel Core 2 Duo and the AMD X2 processor lines are both multi-core. Both companies offer other multi-core options as well.

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