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Dual Core Processor

Published on Apr 02, 2024


Seeing the technical difficulties in cranking higher clock speed out of the present single core processors, dual core architecture has started to establish itself as the answer to the development of future processors. With the release of AMD dual core opteron and Intel Pentium Extreme edition 840, the month of April 2005 officially marks the beginning of dual core endeavors for both companies.

The transition from a single core to dual core architecture was triggered by a couple of factors. According to Moore's Law, the number of transistors (complexity) on a microprocessor doubles approximately every 18 months. The latest 2 MB Prescott core possesses more than 160 million transistors; breaking the 200 million mark is just a matter of time. Transistor count is one of the reasons that drive the industry toward the dual core architecture. Instead of using the available astronomically high transistor counts to design a new, more complex single core processor that would offer higher performance than the present offerings, chip makers have decided to put these transistors to use in producing two identical yet independent cores and combining them in to a single package.

To them, this is actually a far better use of the available transistors, and in return should give the consumers more value for their money. Besides, with the single core's thermal envelope being pushed to its limit and severe current leakage issues that have hit the silicon manufacturing industry ever since the transition to 90 nm chip fabrication, it's extremely difficult for chip makers (particulary Intel) to squeeze more clock speed out of the present single core design. Pushing for higher clock speeds is not a feasible option at present because of transistor current leakage. And adding more features into the core will increase the complexity of the design and make it harder to manage. These are the factors that have made the dual core option the more viable alternative in making full use of the amount of transistors available.

What is a dual core processor?

A dual core processor is a CPU with two separate cores on the same die, each with its own cache. It's the equivalent of getting two microprocessors in one. In a single-core or traditional processor the CPU is fed strings of instructions it must order, execute, then selectively store in its cache for quick retrieval. When data outside the cache is required, it is retrieved through the system bus from random access memory (RAM) or from storage devices.

Accessing these slows down performance to the maximum speed the bus, RAM or storage device will allow, which is far slower than the speed of the CPU. The situation is compounded when multi-tasking. In this case the processor must switch back and forth between two or more sets of data streams and programs. CPU resources are depleted and performance suffers.

In a dual core processor each core handles incoming data strings simultaneously to improve efficiency. Just as two heads are better than one, so are two hands. Now when one is executing the other can be accessing the system bus or executing its own code. Adding to this favorable scenario, both AMD and Intel's dual-core flagships are 64-bit.

To utilize a dual core processor, the operating system must be able to recognize multi-threading and the software must have simultaneous multi-threadi0ng technology (SMT) written into its code. SMT enables parallel multi-threading wherein the cores are served multi-threaded instructions in parallel. Without SMT the software will only recognize one core. Adobe Photoshop is an example of SMT-aware software. SMT is also used with multi-processor systems common to servers.

An attractive value of dual core processors is that they do not require a new motherboard, but can be used in existing boards that feature the correct socket. For the average user the difference in performance will be most noticeable in multi-tasking until more software is SMT aware. Servers running multiple dual core processors will see an appreciable increase in performance.

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