The latest innovation to hit the computer industry is the quad core processor. The four cores inside it provide greater performance compared to processors with fewer cores but only when they are used together. Both Intel and AMD have several of these powerful new processors in their lineups, and many new desktop and notebook computers sold today have one installed. While the quad core processor will certainly be surpassed in the future, it is currently the must-have feature for anyone thinking about buying a new computer.
The central processing unit, or processor for short, is the heart of every computer. It does most of the work and is supported by the other components on the mainboard. One exception to this is the modern graphics card, which also has a processor and is essentially a small computer within a computer. Processors are made up of a core and a base which holds the core and the contact pins together. Older processors usually had one core but most modern processors have two or more cores. They generate a lot of heat and often need a large fan and heatsink to keep them from overheating.
The main benefit of using a quad core processor is the boost in performance compared with using a processor with fewer cores. It is a common mistake to assume that four cores gives four times the performance of a single core. While a large boost in performance is gained from replacing a single core with a dual core, there is a much smaller boost gained from then moving to a triple core. But another large boost is gained when a triple core is replaced with a quad core. In short, unless there is a huge difference in price, it would seem pointless to use anything less than a quad core processor.
Applications that are not designed to use multiple cores gain nothing from running on a multiple core processor. It does not matter how many cores the processor has because an application that does not support multi-threading will only use one core. Many applications do not even fully use one core because they do not perform intensive calculations, however, some need as many cores as they can get. These include applications used for video encoding, 3D graphics, photo processing, virtualization, spreadsheets, and computer aided design. Many of the latest video games also benefit from multiple core processors.
The Intel Core 2 Quad is one example of a quad core processor. The first desktop model, codenamed Kentsfield, was launched in January 2007. Another model, codenamed Yorkfield, was launched in March 2008 and had a smaller core size that used less energy and generated less heat. The first laptop model, codenamed Penryn, was launched in August 2008. The Intel Core i7, codenamed Bloomfield, is another quad core processor. It was launched in November 2008 and is considered the successor to the Core 2 series.
AMD have several quad core processor models in their Phenom and Opteron series. The Phenom X4, codenamed Agena, was launched in March 2008. It was followed by the Phenom 2 X4, codenamed Deneb, which was launched in February 2009. The first Opteron with a quad core, codenamed Barcelona, was launched in September 2007. The Phenom and Opteron series also include dual and triple core processors which can lead to some confusion. There is even an Opteron with six cores now, codenamed Istanbul, that launched in June 2009.
The quad core processor is just a stepping stone to a future with even more power processors that have an even greater number of cores. The speed of a core is limited by current technology and has not increased much past 4Ghz for some time now. It seems that the only way forward for the manufactures is to find new ways to add more cores to their processors. They also need to find a way to remove the heat generated by the extra cores. Research is currently being done on optical chips that use light instead of electricity but a commercial product is still many years away.