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Going In-depth with Dual-Core


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What is dual-core?

Dual-core is simply two processor cores on one physical chip. There are only a few architectural differences between a dual-core processor and a non-dual-core processor. For instance, AMD’s Athlon 64 X2 4800+ is merely two Athlon 64 4000+ processors on one chip. Each processor has its own dedicated cache as well. For more info on the specifics of this design, just read the reviews above.

Why are Intel and AMD pushing for dual-core?

Both Intel and AMD have concluded that pushing more MHz out of their current processors is becoming more and more difficult. How do they continue to out perform each other and make advancements at the rate that has taken place the last few years? Just a year ago, Intel canned the release of a 4 GHz Prescott due to high thermal and power requirements. This has plagued the Prescott core from day one. Intel has tried adding more cache, upping the Front Side bus, and implementing 64-bit extensions. Unfortunately, none of these additions have been enough to capture the performance crown that AMD holds with their Athlon 64 processor. So where does this leave Intel? Intel's current top of the line single core chip runs at 3.73 GHz with 2MB of cache and a 1066MHz FSB. Other than adding some cache and a few extra MHz there is not much else to do except produce a new core. This is where dual-core comes in for Intel. They needed a new opportunity to compete with AMD performance wise and dual processors on the desktop just may be it.

AMD on the other hand has been quite successful in all aspects with there processor except for mainstream big vendor acceptance (What else is new?). AMD had been planning for dual-core on the server front since the Hammer was initially released.

Like Intel, AMD can only push so many speed increases out of this core. AMD has faced this problem since the socket 462 days of the Athlon. It wasn’t until Intel started pushing dual-core on the desktop that convinced AMD that this was the time to launch the product as well. It seems that AMD would’ve waited until later this year or early next had Intel not released dual-core products this past month.

Why would i want dual-core?

This is where things get very tricky, as most users are beginning to find out. We've been using dual processor systems for quite some time now. The extra processor that an SMP system offers makes the world of a difference during multi-tasking and some multi-threaded apps that we often use. It's nice to be able to play a game in one window and encode a movie in the other. The downside to a dual processor system is for the most part cost. You often need an expensive motherboard that requires a large EATX case, EPS power supply, registered memory, and server class processors that are priced well over there desktop counterparts. Even once you have the system running, most apps will not benefit from the second processor in a non-multi-tasking environment. Let’s face it though. How many of us do just one thing at a time on our computer? If you do and the app is not multi-threaded then you do not need a dual-core system. For the rest of us, the decision is much more complicated than that. Besides hardcore gamers who demand the most FPS possible and nothing else, we think that everyone can benefit from a dual-core system.

What benefits does dual-core offer over a standard SMP system?

The same thing that made a dual processor system a rare item among desktop users, COST. According to AMD, all existing socket 939 motherboards will support dual-core desktop processors with a simple BIOS update. This eliminates the need for all those expensive items we mentioned above. Standard memory, power supplies, and cases can now be used. Let’s see an example of similar performing machines (prices are based off of reputable vendors and Pricewatch.com):


A cost difference of over $600 will certainly stand out to someone looking to upgrade. Is that enough to get desktop users to buy a dual-core processor? We don’t know yet. Is that enough to make existing SMP users switch to dual-core with there next system upgrade? I believe it is.

There is one other benefit to dual-core: overclocking. FSB and voltage adjustments are a rarity on dual processor motherboards. To date we have only used one (Asus PC-DL) that did have FSB adjustments and that was it. Cooling options are also limited with SMP systems. Xeon processors use a different socket than the Pentium 4 resulting in little to no after market cooling for the socket. Imagine a dual processor system with a Vapochill. Dual-core will make this possible.

Dual-core or Single?

Reviewers have been trying to provide benchmarks that can adequately solve this question for you. We have never seen a product launch with so much confusion around it. From our standpoint dual-core isn’t new; it’s just an old product (SMP) that has been reborn in new skin that makes it more affordable to the end user. The same performance questions about dual processor system over a single processor remain. Until more applications are written to take advantage of multi-processor machines, multi-tasking will be the key factor.

We had mentioned that we've been SMP users for years, so dual-core, performance-wise, is rather old news. What we're excited about is the change to application support for SMP systems because dual-core will make it mainstream. We may finally see games and office apps multi-threaded. How sweet would it be if UT2007 supports multiple processors? Prior to dual-core this was more a dream than a possibility.

Intel or AMD: Mekboy's View

How can I go about this without receiving fanboy criticism? To be honest, I think that both companies have strong products with the chance to excel in the market. The difference will be in each company’s respective market. Intel will continue to dominate the mainstream desktop base. There dual-core offerings are priced much lower than AMD’s. Now even old granny can afford to browse the net and watch her recorded soaps at the same time. The enthusiast EE chip will only sell to hardcore Intel fanboys. It only offers HT over the non EE’s which is almost useless on the desktop when you already have two physical processors. Because Intel requires a new chipset for dual-core support, the Xeon isn’t expected to be dual-core until 2006. Intel does NOT like to refresh there server products as often as they do the desktop.

AMD’s biggest target is the server line right now. I can’t blame them since it’s the market they seem to be making ground up on Intel. A dual-core Opteron opens several new doors for servers. A 1-U with four processors is now a reality thanks to a couple dual-core Opteron 2xx processors. The desktop market is a different game for AMD. Originally they had no plans to release dual-core desktop processors as early as they did. The application support for SMP systems is just not there yet. The pricing on the products will keep most of them in the hands of enthusiast only.

Our Final Thoughts

We're going to make things quick and easy here. We believe that 95% percent of the Linux community will benefit from dual-core. Linux has always been an SMP friendly OS. Multiple desktops, running games in a window and an abundance of multi-threaded apps make it a very useful product. However it’s still a product that has been around for years in the form of a non-dual-core SMP system. What it all comes down to folks is cost. If the price of a dual-core processor is near what its equivalent non-dual-core processor is then users should and will most likely buy them. Intel seems to understand this very well. We're not sure that AMD does as well. Currently, it's more expensive to buy a dual-core Opteron than it is to buy two single core Opterons running at the same speed. This is unacceptable and in our opinion will not sell to a very large market. The price parity on the desktop isn’t as bad but it should be closer. If the mainstream market adopts dual-core then expect more, if not the majority, of applications and games to be written with multi-threaded support which could bring a whole new experience to future software.


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Guest Gir489

For all you programmers, and modelers out there, Dual Cores = a dream come true.

I've seen some wild-ass shit those things can do.

They complied a program that usually took an hour on a single, in about 10 minutes on a dual-core.

But, for all you gamers, the only thing you will possibly need dual-cores for, is a 60-man server. :thumbsup:

Other then that, wait until they are necessary.

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For the time being dual core is not for us... home use...

As it requires softwares.. ie os to understand the dual core and run programms using dual core functionality....

As the server segment already has the os using dual core technology for long it would be usefull to them.....

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