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4 Cores? 6 Cores? Do You Care? 661

An anonymous reader writes "Intel has updated its processor price list earlier today. Common sense suggests that Intel may not care that much anymore whether its customers know what they are actually buying. One new six-core processor slides in between six-core and quad-core processors – and its sequence number offers no clues about cores, clock speed, and manufacturing process. If we remember the gigahertz race just a decade ago, it is truly stunning to see how the CPU landscape has changed. Today, processors carry sequence numbers that are largely meaningless."
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4 Cores? 6 Cores? Do You Care?

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  • by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:45PM (#32958236)

    The average consumer just thinks "bigger is better" and by creating a mess of hard to understand sequence numbers they can make it harder for the semi-knowledgable customer to pick the right CPU. The same can be seen with graphics cards and many other products (if there is some kind of system behind your sequence numbers you do have to remember to change the system every now and then to further confuse everyone).

  • by pelrun ( 25021 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:48PM (#32958282)

    Yep, much like the mobile phone industry - make the whole mess so utterly confusing that instead of picking an appropriate product that suits your budget, you're tricked into buying at an inflated price.

  • Price drops (Score:3, Insightful)

    by glittermage ( 650813 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:48PM (#32958284)
    I do care when Intel ships more cores. The price of 'old" cores drop and I get better value for my $$$.
  • Re:Not at all (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:49PM (#32958302)

    One core is sufficient for 99% of office workstations that only run a browser and MS Office applications.

    Absolutely not. There are so many crappy applications that will max out a single processor doing stupid things (like rendering javascript on a webpage), that a 2nd core is very very useful.

    Since most software still isn't multithreaded, a crappy application will only max out one core, allowing you to still get work done.

  • Re:Not at all (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:50PM (#32958304)

    Multicore plus enough RAM is generally a lot better performance-wise than singlecore plus low amount of RAM and an SSD.

    If you're having performance issues in everyday office use that go away when switching from a regular hard drive to an SSD you could just try accepting that these days you need 1+ gigs of RAM instead of trying to implement a bunch of workarounds that don't address the actual problem (that your computer keeps swapping out stuff to the hard drive because you're running out of RAM).

    Unfortunately it's pretty common to see regular office desktops with fast multicore CPUs and ridiculously low amounts of RAM (I've seen C2D 2+ GHz CPUs coupled with 512 megs of RAM, it ran slower than a low-end P4 with 2 gigs of RAM).

  • by thomasinx ( 643997 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:52PM (#32958340)
    Not necessarily. I could very easily envisage a 6 core system that plays games/handles most tasks worse than a quad core system (emphasis on most). More cores doesn't necessarily mean more power. There are many other statistics to take into account before a judgement can be made, especially when it comes to gaming. Your e-peen is safe for now. Put it to good use.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:53PM (#32958346)

    The the question is what for?

    If you are a typical user you will only need one or two to run an OS with Web Browser and Word Processor.

    More cores if you are running a server.

    Most cores if you are doing an Virtualization and in-particular running any Virtualized desktop or server.

    So I want more cores and memory. My family only needs one or two until the eye candy catches up and has an improvement from the current system.

  • by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:55PM (#32958364)

    Because when the mythical "Joe Sixpack" walks into a store to buy a new computer so that his intartubes will go faster he'll either fall for the sales pitch of find the machine with the best "big number to price" ratio and if you can sell crap at inflated prices because it's got a big number that's easy money.

    And then there's the "prosumer", the guy who actually knows a bit, he/she will hopefully be confused and not realize the difference in performance between the 3782GXT CPU and the 4790GXT CPU is actually that the 4790GXT is clocked 200 MHz faster which doesn't justify the $140 price difference.

    As for the actually knowledgable customer, well he or she most likely has already decided that a new CPU/computer is a necessity and will force him-/herself through the process of figuring out how the sequence numbers are supposed to work, most of these sales won't be lost by annoying the customer and the few that are lost are most likely made up for by the previous categories of customers.

  • by spazdor ( 902907 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:56PM (#32958372)

    There are others, who respond to the same stress by spending indiscriminately. And their reaction might, on the economic whole, outweigh yours.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:56PM (#32958376)

    F@(# Everything, We're Doing Five Blades!

  • by mindwhip ( 894744 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:58PM (#32958388)

    ... overdue for its 2 year processor and motherboard upgrade. It is overdue because when I started to look at what processor met my ideal performance/cost ratio it was impossible to figure out.

    I don't have time spare to sit with a spreadsheet and a matrix of 30 different processors to work it out so I won't be upgrading now until something breaks. You lost a sale Intel, and I will have to pay more attention to system requirements of games for a while.

    I would guess I am not the only one choosing not to buy because its so unclear...

  • by Chewbacon ( 797801 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @07:58PM (#32958392)
    I remember the clockspeed race and it was much simpler to decide what CPU you needed when looking at system requirements. Just a week ago I was looking at a game's requirements and had no idea if my CPU met them. If I were to upgrade, I wouldn't know which CPU would satisfy the requirements. I'm pretty handy with computers and I find picking a processor with today's marketing daunting, I can imagine being totally in the dark if I knew little about computers. Intel could do a better job indicating which CPU is better than the other and letting you know what you're buying.
  • by bobcat7677 ( 561727 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:00PM (#32958416) Homepage
    The number of cores and the speed per core becomes vitally important when you start doing virtualization. Since Windows 7 has this out of the box and Macs use it all over the place and everybody and their cousin are running VMware (or insert your favorite VM environment here), yes, I think alot of people care. That's not even starting to talk about the server space where almost everything is virtualized these days and more cores can mean more VMs (especially on Hyper-V).

    I don't want to leave the enthusiasts out, so I will just say for their benefit that seeing all those core graphs lined up in task manager is a major rush and should not be discounted as users look to buy processors (though I guess Intel has that covered with "hyper-threading":P
  • by kanto ( 1851816 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:00PM (#32958422)

    Pfft.. this reminds me a bit of the jump to DirectX 9 graphics cards; in general the old cards performed better in brute force triangles per second whereas the new ones would perform better at the more technically advanced stuff (read: the things you disable when you're serious about fps). How much use is it having 6 or 8 cores if the program being run only efficiently uses 2 or 4 of them most of the time? It's not like everything can just be multithreaded like that and even if it can, there's bound to be some overhead for doing it.

  • by DeadboltX ( 751907 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:01PM (#32958438)
    Nvidia and ATI have been giving their graphics cards arbitrary numbers for years.

    Is a 330m better than a 220m? maybe.
    What about a 9600 vs an 8800? who knows.

    Intel didn't invent the random product model numbering scheme, they are just joining the ranks.
  • by cynyr ( 703126 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:05PM (#32958486)

    because some of us run more than one thing at a time....

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:05PM (#32958490) Homepage Journal

    The problem is that only a fraction of customers who care at all would be happy with any given benchmark. And if all you do is read email and run trivial processing tasks (the largest customer base) there's no meaningful metric because things have been fast enough for a long time now.

  • Re:Not at all (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:14PM (#32958580)

    One core is sufficient for 99% of office workstations that only run a browser and MS Office applications.

    ..assuming the OS shares time and assigns priorities in a sane way, the users is not an quant, the multimedia apps are hardware accelerated and the anti-virus package doesn't try to take over the machine, of course.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:16PM (#32958594)

    Maybe I'm missing something, but unless the 6-core system is clocked slower than the 4-core one, the 6-core system should outperform it easily in all tasks.

    Where it becomes questionable is when you're comparing higher-clocked fewer-core systems to slower-clocked, greater-core systems, because then it comes down to the software you're running and how well it's architected for multiple processes and parallelization. Obviously, a single-threaded application will generally run better on the faster-clocked system, unless that system is being loaded down with a lot of other processes.

  • by adenied ( 120700 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:22PM (#32958656)

    When I decide a new computer (usually because the current one is out of warranty) I just buy whatever the newest Mac laptop is that seems to fit my use case. I might look at the specs a bit but frankly I couldn't tell you what processor is in the one I currently have.

    I used to care a lot about this. When I was in high school. I have a lot more interesting things to care about and I think 99% of the public does too. I'm not trying to diss anyone here. If being a processor geek is your thing, more power to you. But I think people decide for whatever reason that at some point they need a new computer and just buy whatever fits their price bracket and feature needs.

    If I was say, building a huge server farm, or spec'ing out computers for a big group of people I'd obviously do a lot more homework. But those are edge cases in the grand scheme of things.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:22PM (#32958660)

    Picking the right CPU is quite easy, it's the motherboard that's the problem, especially with the current fad of putting on the board as few PCI slots as possible.

    To be fair, most boards nowadays have both networking and sound integrated, so it's not like the average consumer needs that many (or any, to put it bluntly) PCI slots. Add a graphic card, and that's it.

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:24PM (#32958666) Homepage Journal

    The 6 core system is slower in non-parallel tasks because the OS has per-core overhead. So all single-threaded tasks get slower as the number of cores rises.

    Imagine a task running on an otherwise idle core. It is running as fast as possible, with only OS overhead getting in the way of using 100% of that cpu. Now add more OS overhead to that cpu for core management. There's also cpu (hardware)-level overhead to consider, and the possibility that caches aren't ramped to the same level, so now more cores may be sharing a same-sized cache ... etc.

    Lots of reasons for the performance of a single core to drop as the number of cores goes up.

  • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:31PM (#32958726) Homepage

    Don't worry. Microsoft, along with multiple abstraction layers (through the browser etc.), and slower interpreted programming languages to the rescue!!

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:35PM (#32958770) Homepage Journal

    They stopped upping the ghz because they ran into a power spike. GHz will likely start advancing again after the next breakthrough in device power. It'll happen, it's just not obvious when.

  • by mindwhip ( 894744 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:41PM (#32958836)

    Yeah but Intel need to label the chips with those 3 things for it to work rather than make up a random number and leave you scrambling around looking for useful info...

  • by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:41PM (#32958840) Homepage
    Here's my take. Gaming is not the question here. Gaming is, has, and will be about clock speed and graphics card.

    No computer should be built today with less than 2 cores, that much is a given. Anyone who is at all a "power user" should consider a 3 core. AMD's triple cores are really stinkin snappy. Quad core systems? Of course they will become the norm, after a while. Intel and AMD have basically said that since they can't go up in speed they're going to go sideways with cores.

    As screens get bigger they will fill up with this feed, that feed, weather, streaming video, multiple website tabs, flash games, a few trojans, printer drivers, chat clients, etc. Lots and lots of things going on at the same time, more cores will make future computing a much more enjoyable experience.

    Hey, Intel - shrink the atom core, clock it at 2.5 to 3 ghz, give us 50 atoms on one chip and save yourself some hassles with this iWhatever confusion. Make the model number the number of atom cores.

    Regarding TFA? The marketing guy must have been laid off, this numbering system is stupid (intel and amd!). I3 = dual core, I5 is both 2core and 4core, I7 is 4 core, but is now 6 cores. Yeah, that makes sense. Uh huh.
  • Re:Not at all (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:46PM (#32958880) Homepage

    Since most software still isn't multithreaded, a crappy application will only max out one core, allowing you to still get work done.

    Not to mention letting you kill said shitty application/process without waiting five minutes.

  • by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:46PM (#32958886) Journal

    Two four inch penises might be interesting.

  • Re:Not at all (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:51PM (#32958938)

    Sadly, we dont.

    There are many situations in which modern operating systems will gladly let a single process hog a CPU core (it's often not "pure" CPU loads but the CPU ends up pegged due to other issues and everything else grinds to a halt).

  • by Cylix ( 55374 ) * on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:56PM (#32958974) Homepage Journal

    Even dismissing core overhead and other details you did not mention there are still some wildly important facts to remember.

    Only modern games have been designed to take advantage of multi-processor systems. There is also a scaling factor which needs to be considered on an engine by engine basis.

    I believe valve only recently made updates to the hl2 engine which optimize for greater then four core systems. While you could vary well purchase a dual proc host and fit it with 4 or 6 core processors the engine may not be able to scale on greater then 2 to 4 threads.

    At one point the multi-core support wasn't so hot and I had to disable it on my dual core system. Again, this is an application by application basis and not all experiences will be equal. Certainly, in the future we can assume most newer systems will utilize the hardware better, but it is no guarantee for today.

  • by juventasone ( 517959 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:10PM (#32959074)
    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Windows Experience Index [] (WEI). It may not be as exhaustive as the benchmarks many of us read, but it is very easy to understand. I've yet to see any manufacturer or retailer advertise a WEI score, but it would be a great help to consumers if they all did. Anyone could easily compare offerings from Intel and AMD, or see the significance of discrete graphics or SSDs (without even knowing what they are).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:17PM (#32959138)

    If you're referring to games made for PCs then I'll agree with you. A lot of PC games aren't even multithreaded.

    However there are a lot of games not specifically made for PC that end up on PCs these days. Console games for PS/3 and XBOX 360 tend to expect more than two cores today so shoddy console ports by lazy developers tend to perform less than well on dual core processors.

    Think games like GTA 4 and BFBC2. They want more than two cores and reportedly don't always seem to do so hot on four core systems either. While they are multithreaded they're coded and optimized for different processors than found in PCs and it tends to show.

  • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:40PM (#32959282)

    If the chip can't run all the cores at full speed due to heat/power considerations and therefore either throttles back each core's speed or disables some cores under heavy load, than core counts are really just a deceptive pissing contest, aren't they?

    Depends, performance is much more multi-dimensional than it used to be.... if you have an occasional operation that can parallelize to use 24+ threads, it might be advantageous to get a dual socket motherboard with a couple of the new 6 core hyper-threading processors - even if they throttle back to 1/2 speed, you're still getting a 6x+ speedup compared to single core.

    Personally, for today's software mix, I like the throttling cores, most stuff chokes a single thread so having the ability to run that single core faster is valuable. Then you can look at applications like video transcoding where you want as many cores as you can get...

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:47PM (#32959340)

    Please name one of these tasks, Pentium D is such a crap design I would love to know what it does do well.

  • by The Snowman ( 116231 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @10:27PM (#32959616)

    The 6 core system is slower in non-parallel tasks because the OS has per-core overhead. So all single-threaded tasks get slower as the number of cores rises.

    Imagine a task running on an otherwise idle core. It is running as fast as possible, with only OS overhead getting in the way of using 100% of that cpu. Now add more OS overhead to that cpu for core management. There's also cpu (hardware)-level overhead to consider, and the possibility that caches aren't ramped to the same level, so now more cores may be sharing a same-sized cache ... etc.

    Imagine a single-threaded game with a high CPU demand that consumes all time on a single CPU, while background processes such as the OS, drivers, pr0n downloads, etc. run on the second core.

    Yes, each core has overhead, but in general, more cores does increase the system's potential performance even if it maintains or decreases an application's performance.

    Honestly, this is not always a big deal. I have a quad core, but often have to wait for the hard drive to do anything.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @10:41PM (#32959708)

    If you're buying a computer, you're probably replacing one. Why? Because the old one doesn't do something that you need done (the other possibility is that your present computer is junked up and it's easier to replace than to fix).

    You will buy a computer that will do what you need done plus provide a bit of headroom for future applications. Past that your choice will depend on two things:
    1 - the skill of the salesperson trying to maximize his/her commission.
    2 - your ego.

    There are lots of people who will buy the maximum cores they can get for the same reason they will buy the most expensive car they can get the bank to lend them the money to buy. Sadly, I suspect there are more of those people than the ones who will buy only what they are likely to need in the life of the computer.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @11:44PM (#32960110)
    When I, as a consumer, feel overwhelmed or confused about a product choice, I usually respond by simply purchasing nothing at all.

    I don't believe you. Someone steals your car. You go to the dealer. You get a confusing choice of turbo Diesel engine, where it gets great mileage, but uses a different fuel. Or the hybrid, where you know there's some issue with battery replacement, but it gets better mileage than the gasoline powered choice and doesn't run on diesel, which is called smelly and is not at every fuel station. Or there's the regular gasoline version, which is a little cheaper, but uses more mileage. But, because of trouble with Diesel, and the expense of batteries, might be a better choice. So, what do you pick if you are confused? Are you honestly stating that when you are without a car and need one, confusion will result in you walking away without an automobile? I don't believe you. At a minimum, you'll lie to yourself until you believe you aren't confused "I just don't like Diesel, so we'll take that off the list" and "the battery problem will be fixed by the time they need replacement" or whatever it takes to narrow down the choice even when you don't really understand.

    But to assert that someone will walk away from a necessity seems absurd. And whatever you'd do for a necessity, is what others do with other more common purchases and you might as well subconsciously for other choices.
  • Ummm, they do (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:03AM (#32961432)

    If I go to Intel's page for the i7-970, which is easy to find they list: # of Cores, # of Threads, Clock Speed, Turbo Frequency, Bus/Core Ratio, QPI Speed, # of QPI Links, Instruction Set, Instruction Set Extensions, Lithography, Max TDP, VID Voltage Range and a whole bunch of other shit. Everything you could want.

    So, what is easier:

    1) Call it the "Core i7-970" which gives you a bit of info about where it falls in the series, and an easy to lookup number for their site to find more info as needed.


    2) Call it the "Core i7 3.2/3.46 GHz 6/12 core/thread 12 MB 4.8 GT/s QPI SSE4.2 AES-NI 32nm 130 W" which is extremely confusing, and doesn't fit in most product headlines?

  • by bami ( 1376931 ) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:14AM (#32961482) Homepage

    What i've noticed with on-board sound is that after a while, it starts picking up garbage signal from the processor and amplifies that, mostly because it is sharing ground with the rest of the motherboard. So you can hear 5000 hz buzzing over the line-out or speakers when the processor is busy. I've noticed this with those realtek HD sound things on 3 different PC's with different audio chipsets.

    Standalone audio cards probably have some filters for that, on top of better DAC's.

  • Go Intel!!!! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Que914 ( 1042204 ) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @08:53AM (#32962804)
  • by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @09:01AM (#32962886) Homepage
    yeah, but not everyone will go mobile and/or use something like the iPad. I just think some people don't "work that way."

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith