Geeks With Blogs
John Conwell: aka Turbo Research in the visual exploration of data
Although most of topics I've written about are pretty random, I'll try to focus in on a much more narrow (yet incredibly broad) topic: multi core vs many core processing, parallel processing, and the paradigm shift that we software engineers are on the leading edge of having to face.

To put it in short Intel, AMD, and other hardware manufacturers are telling anyone that listens that programmers need to change the way they think about designing enduser software.  End-user software needs to take advantage of multiple cores.  And this doesn't mean spinning up a background thread to do some compute intensive request, so that our UI remains responsive.  It means designing all compute intensive algorithms to scale to multiple processors.

Intel goes on to say that designing for 2, 4, or 8 processors is way to short sighted.  We need to design our software to scale out to N processors; where N could be 16, 64, or 512.

Coding Horror has a great post from last year that demonstrates how well common end user software take advantage of multi core processors.  The results as sad to say the least.

We can no longer just expect our software to get faster with the next chip release by Intel or AMD.  What is worse, our software will most likely run slower on newer desktop and mobile chips.

The trends in processor manufacturing is to have slower, cooler, more efficient individual cores, and to pack more and more of them on a single chip.  This means that end user software that only use 1 or 2 threads will actually run slower on newer processors.

This can be seen with Intel's new quad core mobile processor: QX9300.  It has 4 cores, supporting hyper threading so it shows 8 cores in task manager, but runs at 2.53 GHz.  This is an amazing chip, but only for software that is actually designed to run across multiple cores.

To boil it down to a simplified problem statement: Software outlives hardware, and hardware ain't getting any faster.  (more on that later)
Posted on Monday, October 6, 2008 9:05 AM Parallel Processing | Back to top

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