Opinion » Cybernaut


We’re up to quad now?



Dual core processors just came out. Literally. The first AMD Opteron hit the market just over a year ago, but as always it takes a while for the price to come down enough to matter for most of us and nobody sane buys the first generation of a new technology until it can be tried and tested.

So it’s a year later and dual core is quickly becoming the standard for new high-end laptops and desktops, although microchip manufacturers still do a brisk businesses selling high-end single core processors as well.

And now Intel and AMD are preparing to launch quad core configurations — four processors running at the same time on a single chip, enabling faster, burlier computing.

I find it hard to care. To me it matters about as much as the battle to see how many blades razor companies can cram onto a single shaver — just how baby-smooth do we need our chins to be?

One of main reasons I find it so hard to care is that at the same time Intel and AMD were announcing quad cores they were also claiming that this is only the first step and that we’ll be seeing “octo” cores and “deca-sexa” cores, and so on, in the near future. Where’s the business sense in announcing that you’re already hard at work making your next generation products obsolete?

It seems the Gigahertz race, which is slowing down because of the physical limitations of copper and silicon, has been replaced by a race to see what company can stack the most processors onto a single chip without the whole thing toppling like Jenga blocks.

The “bigger is always better” should be ecstatic with the whole core-stacking revolution, but what will it really mean for the rest of us? Will we need to continue to upgrade our computers and software because some gearheads want the ability to simultaneously Skype home, burn DVDs, watch BitTorrent episodes of Lost, and play World of Warcraft on a separate monitor?

And will tech companies support this quad core revolution or are they going to say, “enough eggheads, we’re developing our stuff for the dual core configuration for next five years, so go back to your labs”?

Buying a computer is already getting too complicated. For example, the new Mac Pro boxes are being sold as “quad workstations” because they contain two dual-core processors, and not because they have a single processor with four cores. Obviously they’re not the same thing.

Also, the term ‘quad’ is also misleading because it suggests that a chip should have four times the computer power of a regular chip, but that’s not possible because no complementing hardware or software is designed to make full use of the architecture. There are significant bottlenecks to performance to overcome.

The quad core processors will obviously be a little faster in tests than two duals running together, given that the processors are integrated onto a single chip and there are efficiencies to that design, but nobody can really know what any of this means. Even with benchmarks it will still be confusing.

Ars Technica ( www.arstechnica.com ) summed up the quad announcement best: “The results are going to vary with application type to a much higher degree than reviewers have so far been accustomed to… It’s one thing to use synthetic benchmarks to get CPU horserace numbers for two systems that are very similar, but when you move out of the realm of oranges vs. oranges and into the realm of oranges vs. grapefruit, it becomes less of a horserace and more of a question of which tool best fits the specific types of jobs that you want to do. In this context, real-world application performance is the only thing worth looking at.”

Paraphrasing quite liberally, the chip companies may be making a mistake pushing the numbers game too far. There’s a real danger that they wind up with too many product lines that eventually will start to compete against each other as well as the products of other chipmakers. At the same time they might lose any economic benefits realized from mass producing and marketing only a handful of different chip models, confuse the average buyer, convince some buyers to hold off buying until they can be sure they’re buying the right chip, and force gearheads and reviewers to make brutally honest evaluations of costs vs. performance.


Dark movie I.Q.

The Internet has always been a great place to test your knowledge on different subjects through online quizzes, but the people at M&M’s have gone one step further with a little contest called 50 Dark Movies Hidden In A Painting — http://us.mms.com/us/dark/index.jsp . The important thing to remember is that they’re “dark” movies, not necessarily horror movies, but it’s a phenomenal game and really gets you into the spirit for Halloween. I got to 34 movies before I Googled for help.

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