Quad Core Chips

There are tons of reviews coming out for Intel’s new Quad Core chips. I’ve read through a few of them and repeatedly they keep saying that most applications can’t take advantage of all four cores. They seem to suggest that unless the popular applications are re-worked to take advantage of parallel processing, more cores aren’t going to help you.

I don’t understand why they’re saying that. Although a benchmark would look nice if it showed some mpeg encoder run twice as fast on a quad-core chip vs. a dual core, that’s not how most people use computers. Looking around my desktop right now I have a web browser, a mail client, several terminals and an IDE running. Taking a look at the process list reveals that I have 96 separate processes running in the background – a web server, desktop manager, random applets in the system tray, etc.

A real person using a computer has many programs open at once. Just because each program can’t use multiple processes, that doesn’t mean they’re not gaining substantial benefits from having multiple processors. I can compile some code that completely pegs one CPU, and still have another one idle so that checking e-mail is still responsive. Each of these processes are running independently, and their work can be allocated across all four processor cores. There is a net gain there that I have yet to see represented in any benchmark, but it would be interesting if someone bothered to do it.