Tuesday, October 18, 2005

En Garde! It is a Dual-Core Duel!

Let’s face it, being an electronics engineer does no good to your hopes of a life filled with James Bond like adventures. Sure, all the movies show these suave heroes and heroines hacking into computers networks of casinos, defusing electronically controlled bombs and plugging in a new chip in a socket and automatically redirecting a speeding ballistic missile in mid air. But the role of “electronic engineer” is always portrayed in plural with one Chinese and one Indian guy moving around with laptops with amazing graphic interfaces where the software readily asks for the longitudinal coordinates of the missile to be redirected, at a push of a button. The worst hit to the ego of an electronics engineer comes when these hunky heroes who are in the midst of saving the lives of millions from the threat of a bomb or a damsel about to be vaporized by a laser, seem to figure out the electronics in less than two minutes, while we have to pore over stuff like linear integrated circuits and feedback equalizers for about a decade before understanding the relation between current and voltage. “Isolate the power source here with a toothpick stuck in the negative terminal, couple the output with the input using chewing gum” will no longer vaporize the girl but genetically enhance her beauty! and voila!, the laser

But now, after all these years of denial of adventure for the electronics engineer something has come up which has made our entire community chivalrous. Unfortunately, it does not involve any damsel about to be vaporized, but nevertheless electronics engineers are not backing down from this real life adventure. It is time for the duel between the electronic giants Intel and AMD over the Dual Core Processor! But before I proceed further on describing about the duel, I think I should make my loyalties clear for the benefit of the reader. I have seen four generations of computers in my family. Great grandpa computer, an IBM286 machine, was born in my house in early 1992. Those were the dark ages where one did not worry too much about processor speeds and he spent his days running programs like GW-Basic and games like Dig-Dug. But come 1998, grandpa computer was born, and the generation gap was significant. He was an AMD K6 266Mhz computer who was at his time so advanced that poor old great grandpa was equivalent to a pocket calculator in front of him. Times had changed and considerable thought went into the selection of the processor with due considerations to the speed. But soon he too was obsolete and as the workload increased he was unable to cope with it. Soon a relatively simple brain transplant was carried out and old pa computer was born in late 2003. Now this guy was advanced! He had the same body as the old guy but he has an AMD Athalon XP 2400+ processor and to this day a good workhorse. Meanwhile, early 2005 saw the fourth generation computer, a young lady with a mobile AMD Sempron 2800+ was born and being a notebook, she is upwardly mobile as all of the younger generation today. Now that it must be clear to most of you that I am an out and out AMD guy, I think we can go ahead and explore the news about the duel more closely.

Back in 2003, when old pa computer was born, a geeky electronics engineer classmate of mine marveling at the capabilities of the highly advanced AMD Athalon XP 2400+ processor went into a tizzy. After using my computer for one evening he looked liked this was what he had been waiting for all those years of his life for. He was also an AMD aficionado and excitedly declared that if an AMD processor and an Intel processor were made to run a race, AMD would win. He wanted a world wide public contest between the two giants to prove that the cheaper AMD worked faster and better than the brand heavy Intel. I was impressed. The electronic engineers at AMD also seem to have the same idea; they have recently issued a challenge to Intel for a public duel between their new Dual Core Opteron 800 series and the corresponding Intel x86 server processors.

Now, without going into too much details, what is special about the dual core processor is this. As every electronic engineer knows, Moore’s law means two times more transistor on a chip every other 18 months. What they probably also know is that this means proportional increase in heat dissipated. That’s not all; higher clock speed to span these newly added transistors means that further power consumption and heat problems. This is where the dual core makes its entry. The solution to the above problem is what is called as thread-level parallelism. By keeping clock speeds down and putting multiple CPU cores on a chip, processor performance can rise as transistor counts do. One of the advantage of this for instance would be that OS can now run on its own separate processor core and leave the other processor core on the same chip for other peripheral activities. Now, AMD want to be the first to manufacture and deliver these beasts for workstations and servers. And hence the battle lines are drawn, which was made public with advertisements about AMD issuing an open challenge to Intel for a Dual Core Duel.

This new battle between the giants has brought the electronics community to battle hungry frenzy. Just as AMD’s advertisement beckons Intel to accept the challenge the electronics engineers are eagerly waiting for the fencing match to begin! Touché Intel?

More about this duel is can be read at the following URL:






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