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A computer with a dual processor can finally do several things at the same time. That gives programs a lot more options for speed.

AMD dual core processor, E450, 1.65 GHz, 512 KB by 2L2 cache (copied from the OfficeMax website.) In 2005, I bought a 2.2 GHz computer. Shouldn't the speeds be much higher or did we reach that technology plateau? Mine is a single core. Does dual core really matter or is it a gimmick?

In this excerpt from Answercast #19, I look at the way newer programs and machines access that core processor and why more is better.

Processor speed

So the 1.65 GHz is kinda low. My suspicion is that that particular machine is probably a laptop and it's trying to save power. Higher speeds require more power. But that's definitely at the low end of the spectrum that I would probably want to be using today.

Processor speeds? I won't say that they've completely plateaued; but they certainly have started to level off. The highest speed that I'm aware of right now (without over-clocking) is something like 3.6 GHz. It's been in that 3 GHz range for quite some time.

What many manufacturers are doing now is, instead of continually trying to ratchet the processor speed, they are throwing more processors on to the chip. A single core processor is actually rare these days. I think most of the processors you'll find are at least dual core. I was poking around looking at a desktop machine for gaming the other day and there are already six core processors that are commercially available for consumer use.

Cores work

Yes, cores are not a gimmick, absolutely not.

Basically, they are putting multiple processors in machines (or in a single chip on the machine) that can now make a significant difference in the way that the software runs. The computer is finally able to do more than one thing at a time.

Windows, and operating systems like it, are designed to take a single-core processor and make it look like it's doing more than one thing at once, simply by switching between lots of different things very, very quickly. To you and I, it looks like multiple things are happening simultaneously.

In reality, under the hood, there's exactly one thing happening at a time. It's just a lot of different things happening one after the other.

When you add a core, when you add more than one core, now all of a sudden, the computer can literally be doing two different things or more at the same time.

Where this is most valuable (and one of the reason that I actually recommend that you go for no less than two cores) is if you have a piece of software that is not written to take advantage of multiple processors or multiple cores. Having a second core can make your computer more usable if that software gets into a state where it's not relinquishing the processor as often as it should.

What that means is you can have a program hang completely and still have your computer be usable.

Double that core!

So, in short, cores are not a gimmick. More is definitely better these days.

Windows and modern operating systems are taking advantage of the fact that there are potentially multiple cores available.

I have an article, "Should I get a dual core or quad core processor?"

I tend to run a quad core these days on my desktop. I believe my laptop here is a dual core. As I said, don't go for anything less than a dual on a machine that you are purchasing new. And take it from there.

Article C5370 - May 21, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Gord Campbell
May 22, 2012 12:38 PM

I don't want eight cores running at 3 GHz, I want two cores running at 8!

The vast majority of processes simply don't lend themselves to multiple cores.

Peter Mackin
May 22, 2012 1:54 PM

@Gord, While you are correct, sometimes you can split your data up so you can run multiple copies of your process using different sets of data, each on a separate core. That way you get what looks like almost 9 GHz from 3 - 3 GHz cores.


May 22, 2012 7:09 PM

@Peter, very rarely

May 23, 2012 5:42 PM

I understood this dual core thing fine. But am confused by the terms "Dual Core" versus "Core2Duo"!

The guys at the local computer stores can't tell me what those 2 mean - whether they are the same thing or different?

Mark J
May 24, 2012 12:04 AM

Core2Duo is Intel's brand name for their dual core processor. Just like Frosted Flakes is Kellogg's brand name for sugar coated cornflakes.

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