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How Multi-core Processors Changed Computers Forever

In 1965, Gordon Moore, the former CEO of Intel, one of the world’s biggest designer and manufacturer of computer processors, observed that approximately every two years the speed of a computer processor would double. While it might be argued that this observation has been used as a target over the decades to follow, making it more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than an astute observation, it’s generally accepted that it held true until about 2010 when the shift in computing power moved away from pure core count to focus on the other parts of the processor to gain more speed and power from modern computers.

Here are five of the most important processor technologies that we’ve seen develop over the last twenty years that have had a meaningful impact on the speed of computers outside of the processor’s transistor count that Moore’s Law follows.

What Is a Processor Core?

The processor core is the part of the processor that is responsible for actually doing the computational work. In early processors, the core was essentially the entire CPU, but as time has gone by, features and additions to the processor have meant that the core has become a part of the processor, and not its whole.

Hyperthreading

Before true multi-core processors, Intel started including a technology called hyperthreading, which provided some speed and performance increases. In the era where computers had two physical processors, Intel released a clever technology as a cost-effective way for single-processor systems to get some of the performance boost that multi-processor systems had. They duplicated some parts of the core of the processor to emulate a dual processor system, allowing data to flow to and from the processor at the same time, adding approximately a 30% boost to performance. While it wasn’t multi-core processing, it was the first step towards it.

Who Was First?

Right at the turn of the millennium, IBM made a significant change to its Power 4 chips by adding a second core. The years that followed saw Sun Microsystems and HP following suit, but these processors weren’t the kind we’d use in our everyday computers. It was Intel in 2005 who first added a second core to the desktop processor with the launch of the Pentium D processor.

A multi-core processor is a computer processor with more than one functional core. Think of it like adding a second water pipe to a water system, doubling the amount of water that can pass through it. Adding more cores to a processor is, to a lesser degree, similar to adding more processors to a computer. The best processors today found in systems like Nvidia Gaming PCs have up to 16 cores!

Multi-core processing was a huge leap forward in computing, particularly for production workstations used for tasks that were heavily mathematically intensive. Thanks to the development of the technology, even the simplest processors today, like those in our cellular phones and internet routers, are multi-core, allowing all parts of our computing life to get faster and more powerful all the time. It’s no wonder Moore’s Law is losing relevance.

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