Now that both Intel and AMD have begun shipping dual-core and multicore processors, what does this technology mean to the desktop user? I have a long history of supporting SMP for desktop applications, and many high-end users with specific needs will benefit from the implementation of this new multicore technology. And the new technology will bring the benefits of SMP to the end user at a lower price point.
Multicore processors are exactly what they sound like; one CPU that has two (or more) complete CPU chips in one die. (You can see an image of the die at ftp://download.intel.com/pressroom/kits/pentiumee/smithfield_die_med.jpg .) Although multicore technology provides roughly twice the processing power (compared with the previous generation of single-core chips), it will still require properly threaded applications that can take advantage of SMP capabilities. Therefore, most of your current applications won't see much of a performance boost from a migration to multicore processors. Certain classes of desktop applications, mainly in the video- and image-editing world, are already fairly well threaded. AMD and Intel are touting the advantages that multicore computing will bring to the end user, but at this point in time, few applications that benefit from SMP computing exist for the average knowledge worker.
This situation will change as the multicore desktop becomes the workplace standard. As multicore hardware becomes widely available, software developers will need to take advantage of the technology to remain competitive.
System design will also be crucial when implementing multicore processors. Server-class systems have long been designed for high-bandwidth, heavy data-manipulation tasks. Desktop systems are less expensive, in part, because the components don't need to support a server-class workload. Desktops that can support this performance level are generally sold as workstations and command a premium price. Multicore desktops will ship first in workstation-class product lines, filtering down to premium desktops and eventually to general-purpose desktop computers.
Both AMD and Intel will continue to produce single-core CPUs for the foreseeable future, and there's little reason at this point to rush to upgrade your existing users. Of the two mainstream technologies recently announced--multicore CPUs and x64 versions of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP--it will be interesting to see where the software developers place their development efforts.
You can find more details about the multicore products available from Intel and AMD at the following URLs:
What to Expect from AMD's Dual Core Processors
Introducing Multi-Core Technology
Intel Dual-Core Processor-Based Platforms