The Intangible Dual Core

The move to dual core is a bit of a "catch 22". In order to deal with the fact that a dual core die is twice the size of a single core die, AMD and Intel have to use higher yielding transistors.  The larger your die, the more defects you have; so, you use higher yielding transistors to balance things out.  The problem is that the highest yielding transistors run at the lowest clock speeds, so dual core chips end up running at slower speeds than single core chips.  While the Pentium 4 could have hit 4GHz last year, we won't break the 4GHz barrier until late 2006 at the earliest. 

In Intel's case, we're talking about 2.8GHz - 3.0GHz vs. 3.6GHz - 3.8GHz for the high end single core chips.  In order to offset the difference, Intel is pricing their dual core chips within about $80 of their single core counterparts.  Short of giving dual and single core chips a price parity, this is by far the best approach to assuring dual core adoption. 

Why does Intel want to encourage dual core adoption?  To guarantee a large installed user base, of course.  The problem today is that the vast majority of desktop systems are single processor systems, meaning that most developers code applications for single processor systems.  To encourage a mass migration to develop multithreaded applications, the installed user base has to be there to justify spending the added time and resources in developing such applications.  As we just finished mentioning, Intel's approach is the quickest way to ensure that the exodus takes place.

So, with dual core CPUs priced very close to their single core counterparts, the choice is simple right? 

On the Intel side of things, you're basically giving up 200MHz to have a dual core processor at virtually the same price.  But things get a lot more complicated when you bring AMD into the situation.  AMD hasn't officially released their dual core availability and pricing strategy, but let's just say that given AMD's manufacturing capacity, their dual core offerings won't be as price competitive as Intel's.  Now, the decision is no longer that simple; you can either get a lower clocked dual core CPU, or a higher clocked single core AMD CPU for the same price - which one would you choose? 

The vast majority of desktop application benchmarks will show the single core AMD CPU as a better buy than the dual core Intel CPU.  Why?  Because the vast majority of desktop applications are single threaded and thus, will gain no benefit from running on a dual core processor. 

Generally speaking, the following types of applications are multi-threaded:

  • Video Encoding
  • 3D Rendering
  • Photo/Video Editing
  • most types of "professional" workstation applications

However, the vast majority of other applications are single threaded (or offer no performance gain from dual core processors):

  • office suites
  • web browsers
  • email clients
  • media players
  • games, etc.

If you spend any of your time working with the first group of applications, then generally speaking, you'll want to go with the dual core CPU.  For the rest of you, a faster single core CPU will be the better individual performance pick.

But once again, things get more complicated.  Individually, single threaded applications will make no use of a CPU able to execute multiple threads.  But, run more than one of these applications at the same time and all of the sudden, you're potentially dispatching multiple threads to your processor and thus, potentially, have a need for a multi-core CPU.

The Platform: Intel 955X Scheduling and Responsiveness


View All Comments

  • kjohnson - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    I now put the Inquirer on the same level as CNN. Fox News is a better comparison. Reply
  • slatr - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    Sorry.. how about a lightwave scene rendering at the same time as running a filter on a large image in photoshop. Reply
  • slatr - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

  • slatr - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    Can we see Lightwave benchmarks again please?

  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    As always, I appreciate the comments and support, but let's not let this get too off topic. Keep the requests for tests and new scenarios coming, I can't promise I'll get all of them included but I'll do my best to incorporate as many ideas as possible.

    Take care,
  • Son of a N00b - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    ANAND!! lol...shoot to bad you already finished part to, but for all those whiners, who want games, i have to say this...

    The only gaming benchmark that would make sence is running a game while having a firewall and antivirus running....most TRUE(not you wannabe's who run firefox in the background to induce lag in fps) gamers(including me) turn off their firewalls and antivirus to get the very best possible performace, because it one multitasks with games...

    Now when you all flame about how you multitask with games, and "speak for yourself shit" let me just say, are you really going to shrink a DVD while playing Counter Strike??? YOU'D GET OWNED....

    I do not see any point in benchmarking games as thesse people mentioned...they failed to read your explanation of not including games and rush to critizise....utilize the time you have on the system running more important tests....

    /my 2 cents :-))

    and again great job with the article and the site, and I am very impressed with how you handle the BS'ers who talk ablut your integrity...i have and probably never will question this sites validability...dont come here if you just want to complain about it....
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    #92, that is a huge understatement. I have been coming here for 7 years, AT has been my start page for the last 6 years... This is 100% due to the totally unbiased and thorough reviews posted here. To compare to some trashy RAG website like the inquirer is totally inacurate. Thats like comparing CNN news to the Inquirer (magazine) LOL Reply
  • paulsiu - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    Great article. You were one of the first to review, too.

    I am looking forward to see AMD's take on dual core. Whether hyperthreading make sense now that you have two real processors.

    In the real world, I am looking for dual core to be use in a home server at a price that will hopefully be cheaper than a dual cpu machine.

    Even if dual core won't make our single threaded application run faster, it may make your machine more responsive. How much crap is running in the background these days: virus checker, spyware blocker, personal firewall, drive indexer and checker. Pretty soon, we'll all need Dual Core just to keep our machine responsive.
  • Detrius - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    An excellent application for testing would be VMware Workstation. For me, this is by far the most demanding application that I use on a regular basis. For those of you who do not have experience with this software and have a need to stage multicomputer systems but are (like me) hardware limited this is the bomb application. Plus, it makes an great multitasking load. Reply
  • kjohnson - Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - link

    I stand corrected Anand. My research indicates your reputation far exceeds that of the Inquirer. Reply

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