Intel's dual-core CPU: Smithfield

You could call 2005 the year of the dual-core processor. IBM has had dual-core server chips for years, but 2005 will be the year that dual-core reaches the consumer market.

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You could call 2005 the year of the dual-core processor. IBM has had dual-core server ships for years, but 2005 will be the year that dual-core reaches the consumer market. All the major processor manufacturers will begin the transition away from single-core processor designs toward adding multiple cores on to a single chip.

The PlayStation 3's Cell processor will have multiple cores, although neither IBM nor Sony has disclosed exactly how many. AMD is also working on dual-core processors, and Intel is showing a working dual-core system based on the "Smithfield" desktop processor at CES.

Initial desktop processors will feature two, or dual-cores, but Intel has already indicated that future processors will have as many as four or eight cores. With single-core processors, the traditional way to increase performance is to crank up the clock speed. However, increasing clock speeds has its limits due to power consumption and thermal problems.

The move to multiple processor cores is the logical solution to the speed barrier single-core processor designs have encountered. Adding multiple cores can increase processor power without increasing clock speeds. Having multiple processor cores has the added benefit of improving PC performance in situations where users need to run multiple applications at the same time, such as when watching a DVD while encoding an MP3 file, for example. Each application can have its own dedicated processor core rather than sharing a single core, which can hinder the performance of one or both applications.

Programs, of course, will need to be written to take advantage of additional processor cores. Most games currently only take advantage of a single processor, but Intel anticipates that developers will need to pay attention to multithreading sooner rather than later, since desktop and console processors such as the PlayStation 3 Cell processor will all feature processors with multiple cores.

Intel engineer Francois Piednoel suggests that multicore processors will allow developers to "increase what the game actually does rather than just increasing frames per second." For example, enemy artificial intelligence in current games has very limited pathfinding abilities. It's basically smart enough to move around objects from one point to another, but it hardly ever features the intelligence expected from a clever opponent. In the future, a game designed to take advantage of multiple cores could dedicate one core to frame rate duties while the other handles AI tasks, thus making for a more realistic game experience.

Intel expects to release its first dual-core chips in 2005 and has projected that 70 percent of all desktop and notebook processors shipped will be dual-core by the end of 2006. Intel acknowledges that the new dual-core processors will likely require a new chipset, so those seeking to upgrade to dual-core will also need to shop for a new motherboard, too.

Click here for all of GameSpot's CES 2005 gaming hardware coverage.

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