There’s a presentation slide that Intel recently sent us plotting time versus the performance of its processors and what tasks they’ve been designed to address. According to Intel, back in the days of its 486, technology was impacted by Microsoft’s Windows operating system . Then, the Pentium emerged, addressing a push toward multimedia and increased use of the Internet. As computer systems started running a more diverse suite of software applications, multi-tasking came into focus, paving the way for Hyper-Threading technology. Christened with the ability to process multiple threads simultaneously, Intel’s Pentium 4 picked up significant performance in applications properly optimized for the feature. But while Windows XP reports that a Hyper-Threading-enabled chip boasts two logical processors, an appropriately equipped Pentium 4 really only wields one set of execution resources for its computing duties.
Enter dual-core technology. Both Intel and AMD believe that PC usage models are evolving towards more intensive multi-tasking. Multimedia, language processing, streaming content--they’re all applications that will operate at the same time, consuming precious processing resources. Instead of exclusively devoting energy to ramping clock speed, an exercise of finite potential given current manufacturing techniques and power consumption issues, the two competitors decided within short succession that they’d instead broaden their capacity for operating on multiple threads simultaneously.
Of course, both companies already sell intricate multi-processing platforms for the server and workstation markets. However, because they consist of multiple physical processors, expensive motherboards capable of accommodating extra sockets, and premium memory, those generally aren’t viable options in a home or small business. They’d be of no use to the casual gamer, anyway. Existing titles are single-threaded and writing games to multiple threads promises to be a laborious process. That’s why current Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron systems sell to higher-end markets.
The goal with dual-core is two-fold. First, enable the performance of two physical processors on one chip, in an evolution of what Hyper-Threading offered. Second, bring the cost of multi-processing down to a mainstream level--hopefully, equivalent to an existing single-core platform. Intel and AMD are going about their respective dual-core plans in slightly different ways, using divergent architectures and launching to different audiences.
AMD is of the opinion that the server and workstation markets stand to benefit from dual-core technology most immediately and as such are currently working on a dual-core Opteron processor for an early second-quarter launch. Intel, on the other hand, is gunning for the home users first with a dual-core Pentium 4 processor due out in the second quarter as well. Given today’s software landscape, it indeed appears that AMD stands to generate the most excitement with dual-core at the high-end, but that’s not why we’re here today. In a bid to prove its dual-core readiness, Intel recently shipped us its forthcoming Pentium Extreme Edition 840, a 3.2GHz running with an 800MHz FSB and a motherboard centering on its 955X Express chipset for a preview
of what’s to come.