Quad-core processors

When the Intel 386 came out tech pundits joked about the computers could then wait faster for the next keystroke while running your word processing program. But Bill Gates told the world that no matter how fast the computers were that Microsoft would be able to write software that would bring them to their knees. He wasn’t joking but I’m pretty sure it didn’t come out quite like he intended it.

The 386 ran at something like 15 to 25 MHz and required a separate math co-processor in order to compute the sum of two floating point numbers in anything less than dozens of clock cycles. Trig functions, square roots, or logarithms were hundreds of clock cycles without the co-processor.

Now Intel has announced quad-core processors with more cores on the way:

Intel will deliver the company’s first quad-core processors for high-performance PCs and servers in November, getting the jump on rival AMD in providing the next generation of chips designed to deliver the power needed to handle high-definition video, cutting-edge games, and math-intensive number-crunching.

Intel officials already have indicated that chips with dozens of cores might be possible by the end of this decade. The company hinted that, 10 years down the line, chips with hundreds of cores might be possible.

Mark Margevicius, a research director at Gartner, said that the move from single- to dual-core processors broke the barrier to such developments. “We’re now in a multicore world,” he said in a recent interview. “There’s no looking back.”

One of these quad-core processors can do more hard core (pardon the pun) math computing in a second than my first 386 could in five hours. Now I just have to write applications than can put that processing power to useful work.