Spinning Gears :: The Age of The 1,000 Core Processor

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(this brand new image for Spinning Gears columns is courtesy of Narilka, who graciously gave permission to use it!)

When story broke a few days ago about researchers in Scotland managed to build a 1,000-core processor, I was amazed. As someone who’s actually spent some time in a CPU fab, I’m more than impressed at the skill and design that had to go into making a processor with so many cores in it – and before you whine, no, it’s more than just making a really big processor and dabbing lots of cores on the board – there’s more to it than that.

Even so, and even as impressed as I am, an old column by John C Dvorak called Why Isn’t the Desktop Moving Forward? popped to mind immediately. After all, as Mashable noted, this new thousand-core processor could speed up systems at least 20 times…so what would we do with all of that power? Do we need it?

Let’s discuss behind the jump.

Intel Thousand-Core Processor

Even smartphones are starting to get dual core processors, and the gaming computer I built at home has a quad-core in it and my Macbook Pro has a quad-core in it as well – but unfortunately very few of the games and apps I run on that system can really leverage all of the processing power available to them.

Don’t get me wrong – I know plenty of real-world applications for more processing technology. Supercomputers, research labs, government think-tanks and financial institutions, and even businesses like the one I spend most of my full-time work in do the kind of work that can always get faster if there were more resources in a given system to throw at the task.

It’s not that I think there aren’t applications for a thousand-core processor, but I do have to ask the Dvorak question: everyone seems to say “I want that in my desktop,” and I think we’re getting to a level of technology research and development where the tech is only useful in high-end applications that won’t make it to the desktop anywhere in the near term, and part of that is because application developers and software houses aren’t particularly interested in re-writing their applications or building new ones that can leverage high end technologies.

Even companies like Google are busy working on platforms like Android and their Chrome OS laptop, designed to run on minimal processing power that’s easily available, and Microsoft is considering a version of Windows that will run on ARM processors. Even game developers are happier building games that don’t leverage high end components because it broadens their potential user base. There’s so much more emphasis on re-using old code and building for lower-end platforms than for high-end ones.

There are cracks in that armor though – rumor has it that Microsoft has hinted that Windows 8 will emphasize PC gaming, so there may be hope for PC enthusiasts and lovers of high-end tech just yet.

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