SHCC WYSIWYG Article from January 2012

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This article was written by Don VanSyckel, the club president, as a part of "The President's Pen".  This article appeared in the January 2012 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Multi-core Processors

by Don VanSyckel

I thought I'd touch on the multi-core processors this month. There are quad-processor CPUs available now. What does this mean and what can it do for you? First a little background, to make a CPU or any digital chip run faster two major factors have to happen. 1) the real estate of the chip has to shrink and 2) the traces (like wires) inside the chip must be narrower. (Both of these reduce capacitance which allows faster operation.) With the technologies at hand that can be produced at a reasonable cost, the maximum speeds have more or less been reached. So to keep the money pump running, 'er I mean to keep increasing technology, the CPU manufacturers went to multiple processors (cores). But here's the dirty little secret, unless the operating system being run takes advantage of multi-core processors, the multi-core processors do nothing for you.

The future versions of Windows will no doubt make use of multi-core processors and I'd be surprise if some versions of Linux didn't use them already. Today when you run two things at once the PC actually runs one, stops, runs the second, stops, goes to the first, and so on. All this happens so quickly that the two programs both appear to be running simultaneously. So let's say your PC can actually do two things at one time which is what the multi-cores allow it to do, how many times do you actually do two or more things at the same time? The most common example I can think of is downloading something from the web and typing something into a document or a spreadsheet. Neither of these actually takes much processing power so they can easily share a processor. Time will tell.

If you do extensive graphics or video processing you probably could use the multi-core from time to time.

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