Multicore CPUs in the Real World

A quick and responsive PC has two main requirements: a multicore processor and an operating system that can efficiently take advantage of multiple cores. Any PC built with AMD Athlon and AMD Phenom multicore CPUs with Windows 7 fits that bill.

A few years ago, some PC companies would have had you believe that clock speed numbers often printed on PC boxes were the key to a fast computer. These numbers were the results of standardized benchmark tests which are designed to measure a processor’s performance. The problem is the tests only measure how fast a CPU can run programs. They say nothing about responsiveness, which is the best measure of a system’s performance. Running an application really fast is no benefit if you can’t type or move the mouse while that app is running.

What's really important is how well a PC can do many things at once, which is why PCs with two or more cores are now commonplace. CPU makers realized that simply pushing to higher and higher megahertz didn’t really help PCs become more responsive, but an extra core did. AMD was the first company to ship a truly multicore CPU for consumer PCs, and almost all AMD processor-based PCs shipping today offer two or more cores.

The key to responsiveness is how applications use the processor. For an app to effectively use a multicore CPU, it must split into multiple tasks. This allows the app to spread various tasks across the CPU cores and get more work done in less time. These tasks are called threads, and different threads can be assigned to different cores. Not all apps can easily split up this way, but a modern operating system like Windows 7 is efficient at multitasking, or allocating various apps and threads to different cores.

It’s the combination of multi-threading apps and multitasking operating systems that enable responsive, cost-effective PC systems, like those built with AMD Athlon and AMD Phenom multicore CPUs.

Multitasking has limitations — word processing, desktop publishing, modern web browsers and games can split into only so many useful pieces. And older applications almost all run in one thread only. But a PC running Windows 7 can efficiently shift the apps onto different cores, which happens thousands of times each second.

So forget numbers on boxes. An AMD multicore CPU plus the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system is the recipe for a truly lightning-fast, i.e. responsive, computer, even in affordable systems.

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