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Ask any hardcore computer gamer what the most critical component of their gaming rig is, and without blinking, they’ll say it’s the processor. Consider it the engine that drives computer performance. While other factors come into play -- such as graphic cards and system memory -- the faster your processor, the faster your PC experience will be.
A few years back, we witnessed the emergence of dual-core processors from Intel, followed by AMD. A dual-core is like having two engines under the hood of your PC, to stick with the analogy. And now manufacturers like Intel have debuted quad-core processors in desktop and laptop computers, with four independent cores on a single die (chip). A quad-core processor offers the sort of speed that is critical for your computer gaming, and having four cores also helps to reduce bottlenecking, which can affect performance. It’s like building four lanes on a freeway to free up congestion instead of just one or two lanes that can get bogged down.
Multitasking made easy
You don’t have to be a computer gamer to appreciate -- and to take advantage of -- the benefits of a multi-core PC. “If a core is like a brain, then up until recently, computers only had one ‘brain’ to process instructions,” explains Andy Walker, executive producer of Butterscotch, a technology-focused video and downloads Web site. “Multi-core processors, however, allow a computer to do separate calculation-intensive tasks at the same time. Call it parallel processing if you will, such as working on Photoshop with one brain and rendering a video with the other core.” Walker says another analogy might be a chef in a kitchen who can mix icing with one hand and cake batter with the other, instead of performing these tasks one after another.
What we’re talking about here is multitasking, says Shane Rau, research director for computing, networking and storage semiconductors at IDC, a technology research firm based in Framingham, Mass. “Everyone might look for the multi-core ‘killer app,’ but there is no single one other than multitasking,” Rau explains. “It’s how people are doing their work and play on a system today. It used to be one task at a time, but now we’re seeing a generation of users who have multiple application windows open at one time. More cores will help with this considerably.”
Along with increased speed and smoother multitasking, multi-cores also translate to better energy efficiency (in laptops, this usually means longer battery life between charges). “This technology is also important because it helps to gain more control over power consumption and heat output of these computers,” says Rau. With much higher “clock speeds” than its predecessors, Intel’s award-winning Core 2 Duo mobile processors are also about 40 percent more energy efficient.
A dual-core laptop typically starts between $500 and $600, such as the HP Pavilion dv5z series ($579.99) with AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual Core processor and Dell Inspiron 1525 ($599.99) with Intel Pentium Dual Core T2390. A dual-core desktop costs between $300 and $400, including HP’s Pavilion a6610t series ($349.99) and the Dell Inspiron 518 ($379.99). Quad-core desktops begin at $749.99 for the HP Pavilion Elite m9400t series or the Dell XPS 420 ($799.99). Quad-core laptops are harder to find, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad W700 (from $3,799.99) and Dell Precision M6400 (from $3,499), both with the 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme QX9300 processor.
It might be dual- and quad-core processors today, but many more “cores” are planned for the near future. IDC’s Rau says dual-core is now mainstream, accounting for approximately three-quarters of all processors that ship today in the U.S., but within five years, quad-core processors will be dominant in both laptop and desktop PCs.
“By 2012, quad-core will be as mainstream as dual-core is today, followed by hex-core (six cores) and octo-core (eight cores), and then twelve and sixteen,” predicts Rau. But the speed at which the evolution will take place will likely vary on the type of computer, adds Rau. “We might see many more cores for servers and networking systems within five to ten years, for systems that need that kind of performance, faster than client PCs.”
About a decade from now, we can expect 256- and 512-cores, “which will allow computers to do many, many processor-intensive tasks at the same time,” says Walker. “This will become very important as we begin to interact with computers like human. One might handle voice recognition, and another core reserved for gesture recognition, and a third that handles the computational tasks, like for Photoshop.”
Imagine what that sort of horsepower will mean for your gaming.
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