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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.

It's been 18 months since Intel introduced the first dual-core desktop processor, but only a handful of ISVs have written applications that exploit multicore architectures. And Intel's quad-core desktop processor will ship next month.

That's a missed opportunity for commercial ISVs, custom application developers and solution providers serving the mainstream business market.

"While dual-core technology provides compelling performance metrics, very few of our ISV partners have optimized their code for this groundbreaking technology," said Patrick Taylor, president of Dallas-based Proactive Technologies, an integrator who has served on Intel's channel board of advisors. "The business world is only conversationally aware of multithreading and has yet to take advantage of hyper-threading, which is four years old," he said.

"I'm not sure why they have failed to prepare for these developments," Taylor added. "One would think an ISV would leap at the chance to be first ready with a hyperthreaded application that ran well in a multicore environment."

Signs suggest a transition is quietly taking shape. With dual-core processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices now the standard in mainstream PCs, and second-generation quad-core processors set to begin shipping in early 2007, some ISVs are gearing up for the next era in desktop computing.

Most notably, Microsoft recently launched its first multithreaded desktop software: Windows Vista and Office Excel 2007.

Multicore technology is more than an extension of Moore's Law, the historical doubling of processor speed every two years. It's a new era in software development and business computing, said Herb Sutter, software architect at Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.

"If you look back over the past 25 years, Microsoft has succeeded in its mission to put a PC on every desktop, in the living room, on mobile devices, in making PC computing available everywhere," he said. "But the mission we've just embarked upon is putting a Cray supercomputer on everyone's desktop, enabled by multicore processors. That's the way supercomputers are architected."

Multithreaded databases and other server applications have been available for decades on SMP-based servers and, more recently, on dual-core Xeon and Opteron processors from Intel and AMD, respectively. And ISVs, including Adobe Systems and Symantec, have long offered multithreading in their 3-D modeling applications and security software that operate in the background. The applications optimized for multicore desktop processors are aimed primarily at digital content creators and designers who work with a massive amount of data, 3-D images and realtime graphics rendering.

As the number of cores increases, it enables new features like desktop editing of high-definition video, said Adobe's Giles Baker, product manager.

Boxx Technologies, Austin, Texas, for instance, is one niche system builder making a living designing and selling workstations with two dual-core or two quad-core processors.

NEXT: Microsoft moves on multicore.

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