Time for new threads

March 27th, 2010 in .Blogs .Tech
Suds McSoapdish

Hyper-Threading started out in the early 2000’s as an Intel architecture designed to boost the performance of single core CPUs. Back when the Pentium 4 was still new, Hyper-Threading meant to deliver double the instruction sets per cycle to the CPU, so that processing would become more efficient.

These doubled instruction sets became known as threads, hence the Hyper-Threading name. With the right programming, the operating system could be convinced that the single physical core in the CPU was two logical cores, or in other words, that a second, virtual core has been introduced through Hyper-Threading.

This worked well for a few years, with varying degrees of success. Since most software of the time was written for a solitary core CPU, though, Hyper-Threading didn’t realize its potential in most mainstream cases. Only software that really needed parallel processing made good use of Hyper-Threading, and software like that was still rare at the time.

By the end of the previous decade, multi-core CPUs became normative, and so Intel decided to bring back Hyper-Threading. The key reason for this is that nowadays, most software is coded to work with several physical cores, making it more amenable to benefitting from Hyper-Threading.

Logic and physics

It’s important to differentiate the lingo – physical cores are actual processing elements within the CPU structure, while logical cores are rendered by coding, not fabrication. Of course, both can be a benefit to computing potential.

Recently, Intel has started talking about Hyper-Threading again due to launching the new Gulftown 32nm hex-core desktop CPU, and so it’s important for us to explain that, with good programming, the operating system can be led to believe these new i7’s, for example, are a whopping twelve thread architecture, significantly increasing the potential for parallel processing. ASUS has a full range of motherboards designed to make use of the new i7-980X processor featuring the X58 chipset, which you can check out for more details.

Don’t be confused, though – Hyper-Threading isn’t the same as the real, physical hardware of a CPU, so it doesn’t indicate higher overclocking potential. For that you need more of your tangible components, i.e. more physical cores, higher clock tolerances, bigger bandwidths and so on.

However, Hyper-Threading can be viewed as an aid towards saving energy, since it more or less mimics the addition of core-like computing potential while not adding power-hungry hardware.

We’ll try to test out a new i7-980X system if possible and report back on our findings. Keep you posted!

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