Most modern personal computers are based on a single-core processor – that is, a single processing unit in one integrated circuit. Never designs have integrated multi-core processors, which have more than one processing unit, integrated into a single chip. The most common design of commercial multi-core processor is a dual-core processor, which combines two processing units in one chip. These processors are used in most new Apple products, many Windows-based personal computers and many gaming systems.
Major chip manufacturers AMD and Intel both offer dual core processors for use in consumer electronics. Other chip manufacturers such as Fujitsu and Pennsylvania Semiconductor have followed suit with their own dual core offerings. Manufacturers aren’t stopping at dual core offerings – they continue to increase the number of processing units in their multicore offerings, with four or even eight processing units available. Most dual core processors are RISC-based processors (Reduced instruction Set Computing), which offers faster processing than the standard single processor chip (Mears, 2005).
Dual core processors have a number of advantages over the older single-core processors. They use less power, run cooler and are faster in some applications than the older chips, decreasing the possibility of overheating as well as reducing the device’s use of power (Lynch, 2005). Virtualization, or the abstraction of multiple resources into a single virtual resource or a single resource into multiple virtual resources, also is made possible by dual core chips (Lynch, 2005).
This process greatly increases the efficiency of multitasking, or running multiple programs at the same time. Dual core processors were first introduced to the consumer market in mid-2005, with both AMD and Intel, the two largest chip manufacturers, bringing their products onto the market at about the same time (Lynch, 2005). They quickly became popular, particularly with graphic artists and gamers, who required the faster performance of the dual core processor. However, machines built with the processors had a steep price tag, slowing the consumer adoption of the processors.
Dual core processors were at first only offered in high-end workstations intended for graphics-intensive gaming or graphics creation, and the machines often had price tags of $5,000 or more (Begun, 2005). Today, they are offered in most major computer lines, including Apple, IBM and others. Notebook computers also offer dual core processors. By the time dual core processors were introduced in 2005, single core processors had reached their speed limit due to limits on the size of chip components (Lynch, 2005) Dual core processors did not offer faster speeds for all programs at first.
Because of the design of the chip, only programs that were able to run multithreaded (dividing the required calculations between two different processors) would see an increase of speed when used with a dual core processor. At the time the processors were introduced, this included operating systems such as Windows, some graphics programs like Adobe Photoshop and many graphics-intensive games, particularly multi-player Internet based games (Begun, 2005). Lynch (2005) noted that a popular consumer application of the dual core chip would be to download media such as television or movies while playing a game using the other core.
More impressive than the efficiency games in high-calculation applications is the reduced power requirement and heat production. Wong’s analysis of the PA Semiconductor PA6T dual core chip demonstrates the gains made over single core chips in this area. The PA6T chip uses the 64 bit Power architecture, and uses a fine-grain clock gating approach to reduce the power usage even further (Wong, 2007). The chip uses only 13W of power for a 2-gHz chip, offering a significant advantage over a single-core processor. Lynch (2005) stated that while a single core AMD chip used 89 Watts, a dual core chip with twice the processing power used only 95.
Lynch noted that the heat gains that were realized with the dual core architecture were especially important in reducing fan noise and emissions. Single core chips could not run faster than they did without producing significant, sometimes dangerous levels of heat, which required ever-larger processor fans to disperse. The dual core architecture, which ran far cooler than single core architecture, resolved this problem easily (Lynch, 2005). The ability to use virtualization is a major benefit of dual core processors. Virtualization originated as a distributed computing concept.
Using virtualization, physical computing resources such as processing units, memory, and disk storage are overlaid with a virtual representation which reorganizes the physical resources into a virtual architecture, creating a single virtual resource out of more than one physical resource or partitioning a single physical resource into multiple virtual resources (Ernest & Fellenstein, 2004). Virtualization not only increases efficiency and reduces spending on physical computing resources; it can greatly reduce power usage (Information Week, 2006).
This technique is used in Web services development, grid computing and a number of other areas of computer science. Application of virtualization to personal computers with dual core processors has been very successful in speeding applications and multitasking. VMWare, a popular implementation of virtualization for personal computers, began to support dual core processors shortly after their commercial introduction, offering their first dual core product in 2005 (Mears, 2005). Sun Microsystems is another major provider of virtualization software.
In 2006, Sun announced plans to provide virtualization software that could run up to 32 processes on a single multicore processor, increasing to 64 processors the year after introduction (Information Week, 2006). Sun’s new systems immediately showed the benefits of the power-saving multicore processors. David Young, CEO of Joyent, a provider of e-mail and storage services, says he saw immediate benefits in moving to UltraSparc T1-based systems. With a customer base doubling each of the past two years, Joyent attempted to increase capacity at a co-location facility, but was told there was no available power.
Joyent consolidated a number of older Intel-based Dell servers onto 20 Sun servers. Each Sun server saved the company more than $1,000 per year in power and cooling costs, and generated an additional $1,000 per year in rebates from the utility provider. “If I can save $4,000 a month, that’s someone I else I can hire to improve our service to our customers,” he says. (Information Week, 2006). Dual core processors have gained increasing acceptance in the consumer and business market.
According to Lynch (2005), the majority of the consumer processor market was predicted to be dual core processors by 2007. However, there are even bigger and better things on the horizon. Multicore processors don’t stop at only two processing units – processors with up to 1,024 processing units have been designed in the laboratory, and commercial offerings now range up to 8 processing units. Apple has announced that their Mac Pro desktop machine can now be configured with two 3. 0 gHz quad-core Intel Xeon processors, for a total of eight processing units (eWeek, 2007).
The machine, targeted to graphic designers, software developers and researchers, can support up to 8 displays, has 16MB total of L2 cache and a 1333 MHz front side bus. Although the Mac Pro is on the high end of consumer desktops, the Apple spokesperson stated “The eight-core Mac Pro gives pro software developers a platform to prepare new versions of their application for the future, when eight-core technology is more prevalent on the desktop (eWeek, 2007)”. If the enthusiastic consumer adoption of dual-core technology is an indication, the future Apple dreams of is not too far off.
Dual core processors offer a wide margin of improvement over the older single-core processors in many areas. Increased speed for popular applications such as 3-d gaming and graphics programs make the processors attractive; decreased heat output and power requirements ease environmental and operations concerns. The benefit of virtualization has brought levels of computing previously only enjoyed by users of large-scale grid computing, multi-processor servers or other industrial or academic computing environments home to the desktop.
Ever-widening horizons of multicore processing offer the promise of even greater and more powerful home computing. Dual core processors are only the start of the future of consumer computing. Works Cited Wong, William. “Judicious clocking subdues power-architecture cooling needs: this 2- GHz, dual-core processor uses thousands of gated clocks to cut power requirements by more than a factor of three. (LeapFrog). ” Electronic Design 55. 9 (April 27, 2007): 34(2). Begun, Daniel, Rich Brown, and Matthew Elliott.
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virtualization technology for its UltraSparc T1 CoolThreads servers that will let customers run up to 32 applications simultaneously on a single processor. (Sun Microsystems Inc. ). ” InformationWeek (Oct 17, 2006): NA. “Analysis – Dual-core processors speed to market. More is most definately better that less when it comes to CPUs. With the ability to run numerous applications in tandem, the new product will dominate the PC market in no more than a couple of years says Martin Lynch. ” Computer Reseller News (Oct 17, 2005): 27. “Apple Unveils Eight-Core Mac Pro. ” eWeek (April 4, 2007): NA.