SHCC WYSIWYG Article from November 2010

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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 November 2010 WYSIWYG newsletter.

The Microcomputer Technology Spiral

by Don VanSyckel

Have you noticed how the microcomputer technology spiral has stalled and is in the process of shifting gears. Here's what I mean. The technology of the physical microprocessors reached a sort of practical limit with the shrinking of the microprocessor. The forces that work against each other are heat and size. Each stroke of the clock causes all the microprocessor's logic to switch. Switching states causes a flow (minute as it is) of electrical current. Current flow causes heat. So the faster you clock any given circuit the more heat it generates. Second, to make a microprocessor run faster you need to shorten the tiny little wires that connect the internal parts of the microprocessor together. So as circuits are made faster they necessarily got smaller. The circuitry generates more heat in a smaller package making it harder to keep the circuitry cool. New technology might be developed in the future that will allow faster processors but for now the speed is hovering around the limit.

Before someone starts jotting off an email to me stating that there are faster processors now, let me frame this discussion by stating I'm talking generalities that are suitable for general consumer microcomputers. Who wants or can afford to install a cooling tower outside their house just to run a PC.

So the next best thing if you can't make one expensive processor go faster, put two cheap processors together such that they do more jointly than the one does alone and at a lower cost. If two cheaper are better than one expensive one, then how about four, how about eight. But this lead to the next problem that the software wasn't available to take advantage of the physical layout of multiple processors. Linux did this out of the box and Windows has caught up. The next to catch up will be the application software.

With what's available today most applications still run on one processor (or core). So generally Windows runs on one processor and sometimes two, briefly. The application (program) you are actually using runs on one processor. Most of us just can't keep a multi-core microprocessor busy enough to actually use it's potential.

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