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Dual core or not dual core?
That is the question | Posted by jonchappell on Aug 17th 05 05:49 PM
The current craze at the moment in the CPU market is dual core. This basically combines two processors onto the same chip. This is a lot cheaper than buying two separate processors and placing them onto a motherboard with two sockets. Current dual-core processors include IBM's Cell processor featured in the Sony PS3, AMD's Athlon 64 X2 chips and Intel's Pentium D processor.

The need for dual-core CPUs arose from the technical difficulty of increasing clockspeeds. Increasing clockspeeds requires the addition of extra transistors which means that in most cases, the existing transistors will need to be shrunk (miniaturised) in order to fit the new ones in. Obviously miniaturisation cannot carry on forever though. Most high-end CPUs produced today are below 90nm in size.

Dual-core processors have lower power consumption and heat output than equivalent separate CPUs. As their most common application is likely to be server processing, this is significant because it will reduce running costs.

Gamers have the advantage that they can set each core to perform a different task as long as the game supports it. A gamer may choose to have one core processing background Windows tasks so that they do not slow down his game. Another gamer (in a game that supports it) may choose to have one core processing general game code and the other dedicated to AI. It will be interesting to see whether dual-core CPUs render PhysX chips redundant, as the physics processing could be achieved on the second core.

Unfortunately however, they require both operating system and software support. Current testing shows that dual-core CPUs make a minute frame rate difference on current games (the difference is most likely due to the fact that the second core can handle Windows' background processing). No game as of yet supports dual-core processors so it is difficult to tell exactly what the difference will be, especially if the performance increase is bottlenecked by slower components.

The same is true of 64-bit applications. AMD included 64-bit support in its chips several years ago and there are currently few games that support it. Developers that have supported it have ported the game from 32- to 64-bit and so the difference is negligible. It will take a lot longer for users to see a noticeable performance difference.

Conclusion
Dual core computing is definitely the way of the future. However, I would advise you not to throw out your single-core processor just yet. Some people with clearly more money than sense will spend $4,000-$5,000 on a dual-core machine that won't offer them much of a performance increase unless they are running a server.  When dual-core applications become a diverse reality, their machine will be hopelessly outdated and they will have to upgrade again. It's best not to be an early adopter because initial hardware releases can often have faults or drawbacks that are solved in subsequent releases. Also, by buying hardware as soon as it comes out, you are paying the maximum amount it will ever cost. I'd say it's best to wait for a year or so before going dual-core.

 
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