Dual-core chips: A new ingredient for multitaskers

You can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to chips – central processors, that is.

Conventional desktops and servers need all the help they can get, given that the microprocessor industry seems to have hit a wall in chip performance. Researchers pushing the clock speeds of single-core chips are running into problems because of the amount of electricity required and heat generated.

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That’s why the new dual-core processors are so important to the future of computing.

Think of a single-core processor as a short-order cook in a busy diner. Single-handedly, the cook works frantically to keep pace with a multitude of menu orders streaming into the kitchen. He continuously sorts these out based on when the orders come in and what must be cooked.

Single-core processing, like the overworked cook, deals with a continuous string of instructions and tasks coming in from, say, the operating system, word processor, e-mail program and browser that are all running simultaneously on a PC. The processor sorts these instructions into the most rapidly executable order, juggling the computing jobs as efficiently as it can.

The single-core processor also has to track and reassemble all of the instructions or computations necessary to execute each complete task. Again, think of the short-order cook – he doesn’t prepare one complete meal and then move on to the next one. Instead, he might slice a huge batch of lettuce and tomatoes, then drop onion rings and fries destined for different orders into the deep fryer while on his way over to flip entr