Will Dual Cores Fight Performance Demand Saturation?
If you think about what I just explained above, you may wonder whether the demand for desktop CPU performance might be saturated today. I guess it's pretty obvious that this is absolutely the case! Of course this does not apply to certain types of applications, such as video or audio encoding, 3D rendering, professional picture/video/audio processing and so forth.
Let's have a look at a two years old Pentium 4 running at around 2.8 GHz. Is there any desktop application out there that you would not be able to run on that machine due to a severe lack of performance? How much faster would a new Pentium 4 machine with sophisticated DDR2 memory and next generation PCI Express feel? Well, it would make me feel good for being at the leading edge of technology, but it wouldn't improve my everyday work with MS Office, Photoshop, Firefox, Skype and Miranda messenger. Any way you slice it, the new technology would not let me leave the office any earlier.
Now suppose your world centers on gaming. Go ahead and upgrade your two year old graphics card with a $250+ AGP model, and you will notice that all of the latest 3D game titles will be very playable at 1280x1024 and 32 bits (we assume you have bought yourself a TFT display that natively runs this resolution by now.) Oops! It seems the graphics card was the bottleneck here after all.
These considerations may even render overclocking a rather questionable matter. The original intention of overclocking was to improve the performance of less expensive hardware so it would better match the level provided by much pricier equipment. The goal was to have the latest software run smoothly without paying through the nose for it. But while overclocking is still an efficient way of obtaining more performance for free, the reality is that hardware components fast enough for everyday work are fairly affordable today. Furthermore, the programs that used to be the driving force for creating faster hardware - namely games - are today limited by the graphics component of the system more than the CPU.
Now I am sure you enthusiast users are grumbling after reading that, but realize that you guys are a rather small and elite group of people who already know pretty well what to do with your computers. Everybody else will inevitably wonder at some point, "why do I need all this new stuff"? Well, despite what we pointed out above, there are scenarios where the new technology could change our way of using computers.
Dual Cores Now. What Can We Do With Them?
To place dual core processors in the proper context, we must reconsider the way you use your computer. Systems with two logical processing units are perfectly suitable for doing multiple things at the same time without you taking notice. Imagine playing a sophisticated 3D shooter while audio files are being encoded. Even if you decide to add another task and compress a large data file at the same time, the ability of playing the 3D game will not be reduced. Add a fourth demanding task and this will reduce the total processing time, but won't have much of an impact on the responsiveness of your system. The benchmark section later in this article includes some tests that make clear how valuable this advantage is.
In the medium term, try favoring thread-optimized software over conventional programs. Everything that has been designed or optimized for dual or multi processor machines will receive a noticeable performance boost on a dual core machine compared to a single core.