Prepare for the Arrival of Dual-Core Processors

G00127410

Analyst(s):

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Summary

By 2007, most processors shipped will be dual-core designs. Begin testing now to take full advantage of their higher performance.

News Analysis

Event

On 21 April 2005, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) announced the first shipments of its dual-core Opteron server processors, and stated that its dual-core Athlon desktop processor will be available in June 2005. The statement followed Intel’s 18 April announcement that system manufacturers have begun shipping systems using dual-core Pentium 4 processors.

Analysis

These announcements show that the arrival of dual-core processors on the market is inevitable. By 2007, dual-core processors will represent the majority of units shipped. Dual-core processors will deliver the greatest advance in performance since the introduction of the 386, but developers and users must test and tune their software to receive the full benefit of this performance boost.

Processor manufacturers are using dual-core designs to sidestep the challenges of increasing gigahertz clock speed. Dual-core designs leverage processor and software features that already support dual-processor operation in small servers, so the design, test and qualification cycle is shorter than for a completely new processor design. The dual-core processors from AMD and Intel are somewhat different. Intel improves dual-core efficiency with large on-chip caches; however, direct memory interface and high-speed buses give AMD processors performance comparable to that of equivalent Intel parts using fewer transistors.

These different approaches deliver different performance, depending on the application. However, dual-core processors will deliver up to 70 percent better performance overall than a single-core processor of equivalent speed for certain applications, such as:

  • Servers with processors running at high utilization (for example, when running virtualization software or performing technical computing)

  • Desktop applications including media editing and computer-aided design and simulation programs, Adobe Acrobat and games

Intel’s first products use the mainstream 90-nanometer (nm) process that supports single-core processors. The company will move to a denser 65nm process in 2006, which will enable it to use dual-core processors throughout its product lines. AMD is introducing dual-core products on its new 90nm production lines, and will balance production to market demand.

Recommendations

  • Prepare to test applications on dual-core platforms. There should be no major compatibility problems, but consider replacing or redesigning applications that do not deliver expected performance gains, rather than upgrading them.

  • Ensure that adding extra processor cores do not bring licensing risks. Microsoft is generally liberal with dual-core licenses, while Oracle treats dual-core as two separate processors for licensing purposes. Other vendors will sit between these extremes. Prenegotiate multicore software licenses to avoid unpleasant budget surprises.

Analytical Source: Martin Reynolds, Gartner Research

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