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Multicore Chips Pose Next Big Challenge For Industry

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Increasing the number of processing cores has become the main way of improving the performance of server and PC chips, but any added benefits will be significantly reduced if the industry is unable to overcome hardware and programming challenges, according to participants at the recent Multicore Expo.

Most modern software is written for single-core chips and will need to be rewritten or updated to capitalize on the increasing number of cores that chip manufacturers are adding to their products, says analyst Linley Gwennap. Off-the-shelf applications can run faster on central processing units with up to four processor cores, but beyond that performance levels stall, and may even decrease as additional cores are added, Gwennap says.

Chip manufacturers and system builders are working to educate software developers and provide them with better tools for multicore programming. Intel and Microsoft have provided $20 million to open two research centers at U.S. universities dedicated to multicore programming. Gwennap says the lack of multicore programming tools for mainstream developers may be the industry's biggest obstacle. Nevertheless, some software vendors are developing parallel code for simple tasks, such as image and video processing, Gwennap says. For example, Adobe has rewritten Photoshop so the program can assign duties to specific x86 cores, improving performance three- to four-fold, he says.

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