Multi-core processing is the new pink

You may have heard of the new trend in processor design: multi-core architecture. But do you know what it means, and how it works? In concept, it’s pretty straightforward.

In a traditional processor, jobs are broken down into their basic arithmetical, logical or other input/output operations. These jobs are done top-to-bottom, one at a time, and are measured by how many millions of instructions per second they can do. A single core (the heart of a Central Processing Unit [CPU]) can do 10,000 MIPS or more. That sounds pretty impressive until you realize it still takes as long as 5 seconds just to launch a web browser. That could be as many as 50 billion calculations! (In reality, though, some of the time is spent reading from your hard drive)

With that many calculations, you’d think it would be smarter to break the jobs down in a way that makes things go quicker. Compare this to how a bicycle factory might be set up: instead of having one worker build the whole thing, it would be much better to have one worker build the wheels and pedals, one build the frame, one build the handles, and one to put everything together. It takes four workers, but everything gets done about four times as fast.

The same thing happens in multi-core processors (each core is one traditional processor). Jobs which can be broken down to make things go faster, simply put, are. Obviously there are some jobs which can’t be broken down, and some jobs which take little-enough time that it doesn’t really help to break them down.

Job A takes a long time, and job B does not. Breaking job A down into two parallel jobs makes the whole thing a lot faster. But even if you break job B down significantly, it doesn't speed things up much.

That’s multi-core processing, in a nutshell. Most processors these days are, at the very least, dual-core processors. Many are quad-core, and there are now 8-core processors coming out.

Image showing the new design for multi-core processors: stacked on top of each other rather than lain side-by-side

Because stacked parallel processing allows the processors to work faster while simultaneously taking less energy, we can stack EVEN MORE of them on top of each other!

As usual, the electrical engineers who design processors are trying to figure out ways to make them even faster. After making processors faster started to get harder and harder, folks such as the engineers at Intel decided to try making these multi-core processors, and they work great.

But Intel is working on much more than that. Intel has released the graphic to the right, explaining their next multi-core design. This will allow them to build processors with many more cores. And read this interview about 1000-core processors.


On another note, read the FCC’s proposed Net Neutrality Order (pdf). Don’t know what Net Neutrality means for you and your family? Check out this easy-to-read website. Show these things to your folks.

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