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12/7/2006
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Missing The Boat On Multithreading?

It's been 18 months since Intel introduced the first dual-core desktop processor, but only a handful of software vendors have written applications that exploit multi-core architectures.

But the power of multi-core processing is moving beyond the technical workstation to the business desktop. Most notably, Microsoft is beginning its transition to multithreading.

Observers hope that increased support of multithreading by mainstream business ISVs will usher in a new era of software design and new classes of applications not available on the PC in the past. This would drive a major PC upgrade cycle and widen opportunities for system builders and mainstream solution providers.

Some blame ISVs for failing to keep pace with advances in hardware, and many say this has stalled sales of new PCs, peripherals and services. Microsoft's five-year-long development cycle for Windows Vista is oft-cited as one key reason for stagnancy in the overall PC ecosystem.

Now Microsoft is ready to move forward. At the recent launch of Vista and Office 2007 in New York, company executives highlighted the significant performance benefits of running Vista on Intel Core 2 Duo processors.

When asked about the multiplying glut of raw processing power on the market, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer agreed software vendors have been unable to keep pace with Intel and AMD, and slow to adapt to multicore technology. But he hinted that gap is narrowing.

"Intel and AMD are giving us more power in a very different form than ever before. We kind of liked the old form of Moore's Law really well, which meant processor speed just doubled every year and a half. That was a really nice thing for software guys," Ballmer said at the Nov. 30 launch. "Now they're going to give us more cores, not just more processor speed, and that puts more burden on not just us but everybody who writes software to write it in a different manner that's able to take advantage of the power. So each of us is innovating, the chip industry and the software industry."

To highlight the benefits of the two complementary technologies, Microsoft and Intel hit the road together this fall to demonstrate to partners the unique benefits of running Vista and Office 2007 on Intel Core 2 Duo systems.

New compute-intensive features in Vista, such as its 3-D rendering, invisible search indexing, media playback and video downloading as well as other applications running in the background, such as SideBar gadgets and security sweeps, are enabled by and require multicores to run well, Sutter said.

ISVs must write applications that can scale to many cores, he said. Excel 2007's multithreaded recalculation technology enables advanced financial modeling in complicated spreadsheets because it splits up calculations among various cores, Sutter added. And it scales beyond quad cores to eight cores in linear fashion.

Partners hope Microsoft's new multithreaded applications and widescale availability of multicore PCs will inspire other ISVs to develop new applications.

"I imagine it will be this way until more and more applications are written to take full advantage of multi-threaded environments. We're talking about quad cores, but dual cores are just starting to really gain traction and acceptance in the mainstream market. I think 2007 is going to be a big year for computer resellers," said Todd Swank, director of marketing at Nortech in Burnsville, Minn.

"Absolutely, applications should be multithreaded. Most applications, including those from Microsoft, are not yet multithreaded," said Brian Bergin, president of Terabyte Computers, Boone, N.C. "Until now, the only way to get SMP was with expensive motherboards and dual CPUs. Now that dual-core CPUs are common, truly multithreaded SMP-aware applications can be written to take advantage of them."

NEXT: Forecast for multithreaded applications.

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