Single. Dual. Quad. What’s the difference?

In the early days of computing most common computers and devices had only single cores. A single core CPU is capable of carrying out all of the calculations required to run a computer, tablet, or smartphone as well as its applications. At some point, manufacturers started to put multiple cores on the CPUs of our everyday devices. This caught on quickly. Most popular devices today are dual core (two cores) or quad cores (four cores). Each CPU “core” is actually its own central processing unit. The reason multicore chips are so popular is because they can execute multiple instructions at the same time.

Speed tempered by other specifications

Multicore equipment is faster, but might not be as fast as you might think. They reason being that all the cores are on the same chip. They share the same memory and data path to the motherboard. So although a quad core chip may execute the instructions four times faster, that doesn’t translate to receiving those instructions from the ram four times faster. That’s why having additional memory in a computer or device with a multicore chip is always important. Also, with the cores all on one chip, the CPU tends to get hotter, so it may have to be set to run at a slower speed (gigahertz).

Multicore software is needed

Software has to be rewritten to take full advantage of multicore processors. Many of the programs today are single-threaded, which means their work can’t be divided among multiple cores. When running such applications, one core will work on the program while the others sit idle. Although the other core(s) can be used to work on other applications, there will be no increase in speed for any single-threaded program no matter how many cores there are.

Writing multithreaded applications is actually much more difficult than writing single-threaded programs, so many popular programs still run on a single core. If you use Google Chrome and notice that it is speedier than some other browsers, it is because Chrome uses a multiprocessor architecture specifically designed to run on multiple cores.

Even if you only use programs that are written for single core chips, you will notice a speed increase with multicore processors. They will speed things up when you are performing multiple tasks at once. And even if you are not multitasking, the computer often performs system tasks in the background. So multiple cores can definitely increase the responsiveness of the operating system.

Recently, we’ve seen even smartphones with quad-core chips. The proliferation of cores will, no doubt, continue. Here’s what we will be calling those cores:

6 – hexa core

8 – octo core

12 – dodeca core

16 – hexadeca core

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