SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

A Picture of the Multicore Crisis

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 6, 2007

I’ve written that most people Have Already Encountered the Multicore Crisis But Just Didn’t Realize It.  Now I thought I would post a chart that shows graphically how the crisis has been here for longer than people might suppose:

Clock Speed Timeline

The Multicore Crisis has to do with a shift in the behavior of Moore’s Law.  The law basically says that we can expect to double the number of transistors on a chip every 18-24 months.  For a long time, it meant that clock speeds, and hence the ability of the chip to run the same program faster, would also double along the same timeline.  This was a fabulous thing for software makers and hardware makers alike.  Software makers could write relatively bloated software (we’ve all complained at Microsoft for that!) and be secure in the knowledge that by the time they finished it and had it on the market for a short while, computers would be twice as fast anyway.  Hardware makers loved it because with machines getting so much faster so quickly people always had a good reason to buy new hardware.

Alas this trend has ground to a halt!  It’s easy to see from the chart above that relatively little progress has been made since the curve flattens out around 2002.  Here we are 5 years later in 2007.  The 3GHz chips of 2002 should be running at about 24 GHz, but in fact, Intel’s latest Core 2 Extreme is running at about 3 GHz.  Doh!  I hate when this happens!  In fact, Intel made an announcement in 2003 that they were moving away from trying to increase the clock speed and over to adding more cores.  Four cores are available today, and soon there will be 8, 16, 32, or more cores.

What does this mean?  First, Moore’s Law didn’t stop working.  We are still getting twice as many transistors.  The Core 2 now includes 2 complete CPU’s for the price of one!  However, unless you have software that’s capable of taking advantage of this, it will do you no good.  It turns out there is precious little software that benefits if we look at articles such Jeff Atwood’s comparison of 4 core vs 2 core performance.  Blah!  Intel says that software has to start obeying Moore’s Law.  What they mean is software will have to radically change how it is written to exploit all these new cores.  The software factories are going to have to retool, in other words.

With more and more computing moving into the cloud on the twin afterburners of SaaS and Web 2.0, we’re going to see more and more centralized computing built on utility infrastructure using commodity hardware.  That’s means we have to learn to use thousands of these little cores.  Google did it, but only with some pretty radical new tooling.

You’ll see more from me on the multicore topic (you can always click it in the tag cloud on the left), but I did this chart on a lark and thought it showed the problem pretty clearly so I wanted to get a post out.

Related Articles:

Multicore Language Timetable

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29 Responses to “A Picture of the Multicore Crisis”

  1. [...] A Picture of the Multicore Crisis:  See a timeline of it unfolding. [...]

  2. [...] Picture of the Multicore Crisis -> Moore’s Law and Software I was reading A Picture of the Multicore Crisis, and got to thinking of something which has bothered me for a long time. This issue is related to [...]

  3. [...] Posts A Picture of the Multicore CrisisYou’ve Already Had a Multicore Crisis and Just Didn’t Realize It!70% of the Software You Build is [...]

  4. [...] Bob “SmoothSpan” Warfield calls it the “Multicore Crisis”. That’s the situation in which the effects of Moore’s Law have changed: while the doubling of transistors per chip continues, the by-product is no longer faster processor speeds but more cores per chips instead. He illustrates this point with the graph below: [...]

  5. sunbiz3000 said

    I think some excellent work is going on to automate threads or make software work efficiently into different threads. Check out RapidMind for an example. These guys have built compiler tools that dont require much change in the developer’s code, to make it run efficiently on multicore.
    With a lot of programmer concentrating on multi-threaded programming, I think its a good sign for the future. Just that we should have seen the future coming a little early!!

  6. [...] Bob “SmoothSpan” Warfield calls it the “Multicore Crisis”. That’s the situation in which the effects of Moore’s Law have changed: while the doubling of transistors per chip continues, the by-product is no longer faster processor speeds but more cores per chips instead. He illustrates this point with the graph below: [...]

  7. [...] A Picture of the Multicore Crisis I’ve written that most people Have Already Encountered the Multicore Crisis But Just Didn’t Realize It.  […] [...]

  8. [...] we, at long last, be witnessing the end of Moore’s Law? I don’t think [...]

  9. [...] A Picture of the Multicore Crisis I’ve written that most people Have Already Encountered the Multicore Crisis But Just Didn’t Realize It.  […] [...]

  10. scopettg said

    Wonderful…

  11. photostyle said

    so.. what exactly make it a “law” again?

  12. smoothspan said

    Photostyle, the article I linked to under Moore’s Law will tell you more than you probably ever wanted to know about it:

    http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/cpu/moore.ars/1

    Cheers!

    BW

  13. arvind said

    hey that was a wonderfull post

  14. [...] Posts A Picture of the Multicore CrisisYou’ve Already Had a Multicore Crisis and Just Didn’t Realize It!Why Vista? Why Mac? Why Not Web? [...]

  15. [...] Posts A Picture of the Multicore CrisisA Multicore Language Timetable (Waste More Hardware!)You’ve Already Had a Multicore Crisis and Just [...]

  16. [...] Posts The Biggest Usability Bug in WindowsA Picture of the Multicore CrisisDell Touches the Web 2.0 Personality SpacesMorgan Stanley has 70 to 80 Web 2.0 Projects Underway. [...]

  17. [...] Posts Psst! Have you heard of Adobe Thermo?SAP’s A1S Brings Competition to SaaS for the First TimeA Picture of the Multicore CrisisWho Doesn’t Love Java? (You’d Be Surprised! -and- Part 2 of the Tool/Platform Rants)You’ve Already [...]

  18. [...] Here’s another beautiful thought: memcached gives you a way to leverage lots of machines easily instead of rewriting your software to eliminate the scalability bottleneck.  You can run it on every spare machine you can lay hands on, and it soaks up available memory on those machines to get smarter and smarter and faster and faster.  Cool!  Think of it as a short term bandaid to help you overcome your own personal Multicore Crisis. [...]

  19. [...] Thermo?The Biggest Usability Bug in WindowsSAP A1S, Now Business ByDesign, is Out! What Next?AboutA Picture of the Multicore CrisisYou’ve Already Had a Multicore Crisis and Just Didn’t Realize It!Oracle Could Buy NetSuite, But [...]

  20. [...] vertical scaling is hard in the multicore crisis era.  When cpus no longer get twice as fast with every Moore Cycle, scaling is harder to come by and [...]

  21. [...] to solve performance and scalability issues on the software level and not only with hardware. (The Multicore Crisis on [...]

  22. [...] asynchronous stuff is a throwback to not having a real multi-thread model for Flash, and in the Multicore Era, that’s a liability.  Sure, current mobile platforms don’t have many cores.  It [...]

  23. [...] asynchronous stuff is a throwback to not having a real multi-thread model for Flash, and in the Multicore Era, that’s a liability.  Sure, current mobile platforms don’t have many cores.  It doesn’t [...]

  24. [...] a tenant swap inside a core at a seamless enough granularity to allow the sharing.  In the Multicore Era, this would be the Killer Architecture for Cloud Computing.  If you get all the right patents, [...]

  25. [...] a tenant swap inside a core at a seamless enough granularity to allow the sharing.  In the Multicore Era, this would be the Killer Architecture for Cloud Computing.  If you get all the right patents, [...]

  26. [...] a tenant swap inside a core at a seamless enough granularity to allow the sharing.  In the Multicore Era, this would be the Killer Architecture for Cloud Computing.  If you get all the right patents, [...]

  27. [...] that could benefit from a new nanotech breakthrough is integrated circuitry. Computer chips stopped getting faster around 2003, said Thomas Theis of the Semiconductor Research Corporation. Though transistors keep [...]

  28. […] Multicore Crisis, which I started writing about almost since the inception of this blog.  Here is a graph from way back when of CPU clock speeds, which govern how fast they […]

  29. […] Multicore Crisis, which I started writing about almost since the inception of this blog.  Here is a graph from way back when of CPU clock speeds, which govern how fast they […]

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