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Mailbag: Multi-Core Better?, More

Readers share their thoughts on multi-core processors:

Dual-core processors show promise, but it is up to the software to take advantage of it! Both OSes and apps need to step it up. My single-core desktop (AMD 2500+ 1.8GhZ cpu) streams video very smoothly (i.e., I can watch and record HDTV signals via USB tuner). My dual-core (Intel 1.8GhZ) laptop runs rings around the desktop when editing/rendering the recorded video. But try watching or recording with the dual-core laptop, same USB tuner. No way.

I would have thought the dual-core CPU would negate the video differences and the two systems. That leaves the OS. As it stands, I'll watch and record on the desktop, then do all edits and video ripping/burning on the laptop. CPU, OS or video problems -- you be the judge.

It seems the biggest benificiaries of multi-core CPUs are the makers of bloated anti-virus software. My dual-core laptop will frequently run a scan on start-up, which hogs one of the cores. But the other is free for other system tasks and applications. (Disk I/O still suffers.) But other than that, I don't see a big benefit over my previous single-core system.

I recently went from an Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz with 1GB of RAM to an Intel Quad Core2 2.6GHz with 4GB of RAM at work. I definitely see a difference when I open apps such as Word, Excel, Access and Acrobat -- they launch faster. And the CPU fan does not kick in when I have 20 apps open.

The problem with the apps needing to be written to support numerous cores has been the main reason I have not purchased a Core 2 yet (along with price, even though it has come down a lot). I have always suspected that some apps would run slower like you said. I do use a Pentium D, but that's not really two cores; it's more like one-and-a-half. And at 3.0GHz, it's just as fast as many Core 2s I have seen, in my opinion. A fast Pentium D (with a nice L2 cache) with at least 2 gigs of RAM and a healthy FSB speed to match runs even Vista Ultimate with no issues; I haven't seen any difference in the Core 2s performance on similar machines.

And as far as playing games is concerned, your GPU is the bottleneck before the processor is when you're running at 3 GHz and your GPU core is only running at 650MHz. In my opinion, there's still no reason to get a Core 2 yet.

I just finished updating an IBM ThinkPad T23 (circa 2001) for a customer. It boasts an Intel Mobile Pentium III 1.2 Ghz and 384Gb RAM. Impressive! It is running XP Pro SP3 as snappily as any machine that I have dealt with. I thought I had gotten into one of those "under-powered machine, over-powered expectations" situations that our customers seem to have periodically. Was I wrong! On the other hand, I have an HP Pavilion dv4000 with a Centrino 1.6 and 1GB RAM and a Gateway Core 2 1.8 with 2GB RAM, and neither seem to perform as well. By performance, I mean I can't tap my fingers more than once waiting on the ThinkPad, but the other two are good for at least four or five taps.

Empiric reasoning and perception? I guess so, but perception is everything and I certainly perceive better performance from an eight-year-old machine than I do from the "vastly improved" four-year-old machine and two-year-old machine. Funny thing though: My customer probably spent twice as much for that IBM when he bought it as I did for either of its two technologically improved successors. So have we regressed along with the cost? Or better yet, what do we really need to get the job done?

And you know that recent Apple recommendation to get anti-virus software for Macs? Not so fast:

I thought your piece called "Macs Need Anti-Virus, Too" was interesting enough that I tried to find out what was available for AV protection for my Mac. Then, I ran across this gem.

Just in case you haven't received a torrent of flame-mail already.

Tune in tomorrow for more reader letters! In the meantime, let us know what you think -- leave a comment below or e-mail [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on December 15, 2008


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