Intel Multi-core Processors
We demand a lot from our computers. We want to download music, upload photos, edit video, watch YouTube, and check our e-mail all at the same time, often resulting in frustrating lag as our computers struggle to multitask as quickly as we do.
Instead of trying to push a single processor to work harder and faster to meet increasing performance demands, engineers have decided the way to increase speed and capability by bundling multiple processors in each computer, allowing them to share the load with each other.
This isn’t exactly new. Lots of computers currently run on Dual Core Processors. However, Intel is hoping to up the ante – at least enough to stay ahead of competitor Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) - with its new Core 2 Quad chip for high-end personal computers.
Designed to break through bottlenecks encountered with high-definition video and multimedia, the Quad-core chips can handle complex tasks faster than single-core chips by breaking each job into smaller pieces, then computing them simultaneously in the different processors.
These chips are most popular with gamers and users of servers and workstations running intensive programs like digital media creation.
"The performance once requiring a supercomputer is now on the desktop,” said Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini in a press release.
Launched during January’s Consumer Electronics Showcase in Las Vegas, the chip is actually the third model of a four-core processor and follows Intel's launch in November of its quad-core Xeon 5300 for servers and Core 2 Extreme QX6700 for gamers.
Intel plans to target this new chip at a broader segment of mainstream users, though it will still focus on processor-intensive programs such as entertainment, gaming and multimedia activities. In the long run, the company plans to use multicore processors as the engines for its full array of technology platforms in the digital home, office, mobile and enterprise markets.
Core expansion will be a dominant theme for Intel over the next few years, said Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner. By the end of the decade, chips with tens of cores will be possible, while in 10 years, it's theoretically possible that chips with hundreds of cores will come out, he added.
Multiplying the number of cores brings distinct advantages. First, it cuts down overall energy consumption for equivalent levels of performance. If the recent Core Duo chips released for notebooks from Intel had only one core, the chips would consume far more power, he said.
Integrating processor cores into the same piece of silicon or same processor package also increases performance by reducing the data pathways.
"To go from core to core can be a matter of nanoseconds," Rattner said. "As soon as you move cores together you get an automatic improvement in available bandwidth."
Nonetheless, adding cores requires careful planning. Energy efficiency, data input and output and memory latency (the time it takes data to go from memory and the processor and vice versa) will be major issues with each level of core expansion.