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Dual Processor vs Dual Core

Dual Processor vs Dual Core

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Dual Processor vs Dual Core
Written on 3/25/06 by William George
[ View all Articles ]
Click here for a printable version.
Warning: Always look at the date when you read a hardware article. This article may be out
of date, as it was written on 3/25/06.
Introduction

It has always been a frequent question -- "Will I benefit from multiple
processors?" With the growing popularity of dual core processors, the topic is
more important than ever! Will multiple processors or a dual core processor be
beneficial to you, and what are the differences between them? These are the
questions this article will attempt to lay to rest.

A major question for some people getting ready to buy a high-end system is
whether they want or need to have two processors available to them. For
anyone doing video editing, multi-threaded applications, or a lot of multitasking
the answer is a very clear 'yes'. Then the question becomes whether two
separate processors (as in a dual Xeon or Opteron system) is the way to go, or
whether a single dual-core CPU (like a Pentium D or Athlon64 X2) will do just as
well. Dual CPU vs dual core -- which is better?!

Dual Core Defined

As the tasks that computers can perform get more complicated, and as people
desire to do more at once, computer manufacturers are trying hard to increase
speed in order to keep up with demand. Having a faster CPU has been the
traditional way to keep up, since a faster CPU can do a task then quickly switch
and work on the next. However, due to size, complexity and heat issues it has
become increasingly difficult to make CPUs faster. In order to continue to
improve performance, another solution had to be found.

Having two CPUs (and a motherboard capable of
hosting them) is more expensive, so computer
engineers came up with another approach: take two
CPUs, smash them together onto one chip, and presto!
The power of two CPUs, but only one socket on the
motherboard. This keeps the price of the
motherboards reasonable, and allows for the power of
two CPUs (also known as cores) with a cost that is less
than two separate chips. This, in a nut shell, is what
the term "Dual Core" refers to - two CPUs put together
on one chip.

There are more subtle differences between brands (how they combined two
cores onto one chip, and the speeds they run each core at) that can affect how
much of a boost in performance you can get from having a dual core CPU.

Additionally, different types of programs get differing benefits from having a
dual core chip.
Thread Scheduling

There is one more thing to keep in mind: how a
computer knows when to use each core. There is a
part of the Windows operating system called the
'scheduler' which tells the CPU what program to be
running at any given time. This allows several
programs to run at the same time, while the processor
switches back and forth between them as needed.
When a lot of programs are running, a computer can
begin to seem slow, since Windows' scheduler is
having to divert the computer's CPU resources in
many directions. If a dual-core processor is present,
the scheduler suddenly has twice as much CPU
resource to work with. This would allow for things like

being able to run one core specifically for a game, while using the other core to
do "background" things that keep the rest of the system running. Sometimes
both cores can even work on the same program (if it is designed to take
advantage of more than one core - this is called being "multi-threaded").
However, it is important to note that if you are running a single program and it
is not "multi-threaded", you will not see a benefit from more than one CPU or
core.

Dual Core Implementation

Because of the different ways AMD and Intel came into the dual-core market,
each platform deals with the increased communication needs of their new
processors differently. AMD claims that they have been planning the move to
dual-core for several years now, since the first Athlon64s and Opterons were
released. The benefit of this can be seen in the way that the two cores on their
processors communicate directly -- the structure was already in place for the
dual cores to work together. Intel, on the other hand, simply put two of their
Pentium cores on the same chip, and if they need to communicate with each
other it has to be done through the motherboard chipset. This is not as elegant
a solution, but it does its job well and allowed Intel to get dual-core designs to
the market quickly. In the future Intel plans to move to a more unified design,
and only time can tell what that will look like.

Intel did not increase the speed of their front-side-bus (the
connection between the CPU and the motherboard) when they
switched to dual-core, meaning that though the processing power
doubled, the amount of bandwidth for each core did not. This puts
a bit of a strain on the Intel design, and likely prevents it from
being as powerful as it could be. To counteract this effect, Intel
continues to use faster system memory to keep information

supplied to the processor cores. As a side note, the highest-end Intel chip, the

Pentium Extreme Edition 955, has a higher front-side-bus speed, as well as
having a larger (2MB per core) cache memory and the ability to use
Hyperthreading (which all non-Extreme Edition Pentium D processors lack). This
makes it a very tempting choice for those wanting to overcome some of the
design handicaps of Intel's dual-core solution.

AMD, on the other hand, does not use a front-side-bus in the
traditional sense. They use a technology called HyperTransport to
communicate with the chipset and system memory, and they have
also moved the memory controller from the chipset to the CPU. By
having the memory controller directly on the processor, AMD has

given their platform a large advantage, especially with the move to
dual-core. The latest generation of AMD single-core processors can use single-
or dual-channel PC3200 memory, but it is interesting to note that even though
dual-channel operation doubles the memory speed, it does not double the
actual memory performance for single-core processors. It appears that dual-
channel memory just provides significanly more bandwidth than a single
processor core can use. However, with dual-core processors all that extra
bandwidth can be put to good use, allowing the same technology already
present in single-core chips to remain unchanged without causing the same
sort of bottleneck Intel suffers from.

AMD Performance Comparison

To compare performance differences here at Puget Custom Computers, we
compile a selection of benchmarks taken from systems we have built in the
past. This comes in very useful when looking to answer questions about
performance, like we're doing here! We will tackle AMD first:

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