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Multi-core processors: When and where to use them

Installing a multi-core processor in an SMB shop may be a smart decision. Get help deciding when and where to use multi-core processors.

Channel takeaway: Deciding whether or not to recommend hardware to a client with a multi-core processor can be a decision that costs thousands of dollars. Before deciding whether or not the technology is right for customers it is important to know how performance of those boxes will be affected. Will the upgrade bring faster performance to the network? Does the customer need the quicker response time? By understanding how multi-core processors change performance of an SMB, VARs will be able to harness the characteristics of these processors to help add value. Serdar Yegulalp discusses whether or not they are worth the money and how performance will be affected.

Multi-core processors: Are they worth the premium?

One question still plagues many IT folks: Are the extra cores worth the extra money? As of this moment, the newest quad-core processors cost north of $1,000—and while prices on multi-core processors are sure to come down, they're going to remain at a premium for a long time to come. So if you're budgeting out for new systems, you want to have some idea of whether two (or four, or more) cores are worth the extra bucks.

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The primary factor to consider is what the hardware is going to be used for, i.e., the application load and the user base. Multi-core systems thrive most when they're fed highly multithreaded, parallelized applications—programs that can split their workload off among multiple CPUs. Such applications include:

  • Databases. This encompasses everything from desktop programs such as Access or FileMaker Pro to SQL Server, Sybase and MySQL. All of them work better when they have more CPUs to run on.
  • Multimedia. This includes video editing suites, audio workstations, Photoshop, 3D rendering, CAD and Flash. Most multimedia programs run in a highly parallel, multithreaded fashion. However, there are a few exceptions—some kinds of video encoding (e.g., QuickTime) that aren't as heavily optimized for multithreading and can't always be.

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Intel Core Duo outscores discrete dual-processor system

Intel's Core and Core 2 processors are working exercises in how less really can be more. Instead of increasing computing power by placing two discrete processors on a motherboard, why not take the guts of two processors, put them side by side on the same die, and make them work together?

That's essentially what Intel has done with the Core lineups, and the performance figures seem to bear out this move. A single Core 2 Duo Extreme running at 3.2 GHz can outperform a single Pentium D at the same clock speed. . .and not by a little, either. (The same goes for single Core chips versus multiple older-school Intel processors, and the Athlon 64 lineup, too.)

What specifically makes the Core appealing versus a discrete dual-processor system? There are several things that bear looking at in detail.

  • Speed. A single Core 2 processor running at a given clock speed can crank through many of the same multithreaded real-world applications twice as fast as its Pentium D or even Pentium EE predecessors.
  • Lower power consumption. The highest power consumption rating for any of the Core processors is 65 watts, compared to the 100+ watts of earlier Intel offerings.

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About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter, which is devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP users and administrators. He has more than 10 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to and

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