You may have heard the term Dual Core or Quad Core. You can even be proud of having a quad-core machine. Do you really know what that means and does it justify puffing up with pride?
When buying a new computer, what will be the processor is the most important decision. But there is a lot of terminology, especially in the kernels. You need one with a dual core, one with a quad core, one with a hexa core, one with an octo core…
Let's put aside the phraseology and understand what all these nuclei really mean.
Dual Core Vs. Quad Core
Here's everything you need to know:
- There is always only one processor chip. The chip can have one, two, four, six or eight cores.
- Currently, an 18-core processor is the best you can get, at least on consumer computers.
- Each "core" is the part of the chip that does the processing work. Essentially, each kernel is a central processing unit (CPU).
In this article we will deal with dual core processors vs. quad core processors, purely for computers and not for smartphones.
How speed is affected by dual and quad core processors
You might think that the more cores there are in your processor, the faster it is overall. This does not always happen. It's a little more complicated.
Most kernels are faster only if a program can split its tasks between kernels. Not all programs are developed to separate their work between cores. We will analyze it a little more below.
The clock speed of each kernel is also a critical factor in speed, as is the architecture. A newer dual-core CPU with a higher clock speed will often outperform an older quad-core processor with a lower clock speed (!!).
More cores also lead to higher power consumption by the processor. When the processor is turned on, it supplies power to all the cores at once and not just one at a time.
Chip makers have tried to reduce power consumption and make processors more energy efficient. But, as a general rule, a quad-core processor will draw more power from your laptop (so if you are on a laptop then it will run out of battery faster).
More kernels equates to more heat
The heat generated by a processor is affected by several factors from the core. But again, as a rule, more cores lead to more heat.
Because of this extra heat, manufacturers need to add better fans or other cooling solutions.
Are Quad Core processors more expensive than Dual Core?
More cores is not always a higher price. As we said earlier, clock speed, architecture versions and other estimates come into play in price and performance.
But if all the other factors are the same, then more cores means higher value.
It's all about the software
Here's the dirty little secret chip makers don't want you to know. Speed is not about the number of cores you have, but about the software you run on your computer.
Programs should be specially developed to take advantage of multiple cores. Such "multi-threaded software" is not as common as you might think.
It is equally important, even if it is a multi-threaded program, for what exact purpose it is used. For example, the Google Chrome browser supports many processes, as does the Adobe Premier Pro video editing software.
Adobe Premier Pro instructs different kernels to work on different aspects of your editing. Given the high demands involved in video editing, most cores make some sense, as each kernel can operate a separate piece of the overall editing.
Similarly, Google Chrome commands different kernels to run on different tabs. But here's the thing. Once you open a webpage on a tab, it is usually static. No further processing work is required. The rest of the work required is to save the page in RAM. This means that although the kernel can be used for a tab, in reality there is no need.
This example of Google Chrome is an illustration of how even multi-threaded software may not give you the performance you paid for and expected.
Double core does not mean double speed
Well, let's say you have the right software and all your other equipment is the same. Would a quad core processor then be twice as fast as a dual core processor? No.
Growing cores does not address the problem of software scaling. Kernel scaling is the theoretical ability of any software to assign the correct tasks to the correct kernels, so that each kernel calculates at its optimum speed. This is not really the case. In fact, tasks are split sequentially (as most multi-threaded software do) or randomly.
For example, suppose you have a quad-core processor (Core1, Core2, Core3, Core4). You must do three tasks (E1, E2, E3) to complete an action and each task has five operations (P1, P2, P3, P4, P5).
The best software will divide the tasks as follows:
- Core1 = Π1Ε1
- Core2 = Π1Ε2
- Core3 = Π1Ε3
- Core4 = Π2Ε1
However, the software is not smart. If the P1E3 track is the hardest and longest job, the software should split the P1E3 between Core3 and Core4. But this is not the case and so after completing their tasks Core1 and Core2 will have to wait for the slowest work of Core3 to be completed to continue the overall processing.
All of this is a circular way of saying that software as it is today is not optimized to take full advantage of multiple cores. And doubling the cores is not the same as doubling the velocities.
Where do the above kernels really help?
Now that you know what kernels do and their limitations on boosting performance, you need to ask yourself, "Do I need more kernels?" Well, it depends on what you plan to do with them.
Dual core and Quad core in games
If you are a fan gamer, then put more cores on your computer. The vast majority of new game titles from major studios support multi-threaded architecture. Video games still depend heavily on the graphics card to look realistic, but a multi-core processor also helps.
Video or audio editing
For any professional working with video or audio programs, most cores will be beneficial. Most of the popular audio and video editing tools take advantage of multi-core editing.
Photoshop and Design
If you are a designer, then higher clock speed and more processor cache will increase speed better than most cores. Even the most popular design software, Adobe Photoshop, largely supports single threaded processes. Multiple cores are not going to make much difference to you.
Do you need more cores?
Overall, for simple, common computers, a quad core processor will perform a task faster than a dual core processor. Each program you open will work with its own kernel, so overall the speeds will be better. If you are using multiple programs at the same time, switching frequently, and assigning tasks to yourself, then you need a multi-core processor.
Just remember that: overall system performance is an area where it is affected by too many factors. Do not expect your machine to fly just because you changed an item, such as the processor. Choose wisely and buy the right processor for your needs.