When Quad-core Processors Ruled the Earth

I've seen a web report that stated Intel will be sticking with quad-core processors for a while. If we bend Moore's Law just a tad to fit this situation, it should be another 2 years or so before we could see the advent of processors with 8 cores (octa-core? octo-core? elite 8-core?). There was a sense that quad-core processors would be the featured processor for longer than the predicted two year period, though. At least one roadmap has 8-core processors available in 2009.

I'm not as interested in when the next leap in the number of cores will be. I'm wondering if Intel will continue to offer dual- and quad-core processors after the 8-core chips start to roll off the lines. In the past, increasing the clock speed was the technological advancement that drove new processor generations. Was Intel still producing 800MHz processors after the 2.8GHz processors had been released? Of course not. However, there was a definite advantage to customers upgrading their systems to use faster processors.

So, what is the advantage of going from 4 to 8 cores? Will I be able to annoy my relatives and friends sooner with the videos of my vacation to Cornwall if I have 8 cores? Will that term paper detailing the impact of zamboni import tariffs on the GNP of Portugal get produced faster using 8 cores? Will Grandma be able to win more at online poker if she has 8 cores? If I can't even tax the 2 cores I have today, what is going to entice me to buy a processor where 75% of the circuitry may just sit idle?

The scientific and technical computing communities will always be a market for processors with increasing numbers of cores. Games are going to be a big consumer of the extra cycles that more cores will be able to provide, too. Bigger problems with more data from finer granularity can always be formulated in HPC apps and more characters cavorting in more detailed settings will always be able to take advantage of more cores. With each increase in the number of cores, though, the overall size of the market is going to shrink. I saw a post in the threading software forum say that the author had a threaded application requiring 32 cores in order to start getting decent performance. This is hardly the typical consumer of Intel processors.

Two and four core processors seem adequate for the foreseeable future, especially with current usages. Will there be some "killer app" that makes 16- or 32-core processors necessary? Will the OS get so complex that it will need all but two of the available cores to give the user something resembling real-time responses? Will we be forced to upgrade every 2-4 years to larger core counts, even if a majority of the cores will sit idle most of the time? I guess, if that is all that Intel and AMD will make available, we'll just bite the bullet and shell out the cash.


P.S. The Google returned 101 hits from "zamboni import tariff". Will this blog turn out to be #102?

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