Dual Core Doldrums


I’m pretty manic about my laptops. It drives my wife nuts because I need to buy a new laptop every year. The reason is simple – technology. Or better put – Moore’s Law. Each year technology evolves, making each new laptop more powerful , lighter, and with more storage and a brighter, higher resolution screen. Man, I love it.

Last year, in March 2007, I bought a new Gateway NX100X, which weighed in at an astonishing low 3 pounds. I was in love, plus it has an amazingly sharp 12″ 1280 X 800 screen. The screen itself was worth the price. But now, close to one year later, I have one major reservation. This laptop is slow.

It all started when I began development of our new feature World Rank. It is an amazing feature exclusive to PC Pitstop OverDrive. Because we test so many PCs every month, we can compare the performance of your PC against all the PCs in the universe. Hence the name, World Rank. I encourage everyone to check it out in our beta test of PC Pitstop OverDrive. But there was one major bummer. My brand new PC was slow. I mean bottom 23%, slow. How can this be? The reason that I buy a new PC each year is that the new one is always faster than the old one.

Brand Model Purchase
World Rank
Gateway NX100X 3/07 Bottom 23%
Winbook X Series 4/06 Top 46%

The performance of my latest laptop has been disappointing.

What’s the problem? It all boils down to one thing – dual core. At the time that I bought my machine, dual core CPU’s were the rage. I bought a dual core 1.2 Ghz system, thinking that it would easily outrun my old clunky 1.6 Ghz single core system. Boy was I wrong!

Here’s an analogy. Here in the United States, my wife and I share one car, a BMW300i. It takes about 10 minutes to drive to the Walmart in that car. But let’s say, we traded in our shiny blue BMW for two slower cars. In these cars, it now takes 20 minutes to drive to Walmart. Does it save us time? It depends. If at the same time, that my wife wants to drive to Walmart, I have to go to the dentist, yes it saves time. But the reality is that the times are rare when we both need the car, so it is a bad trade.

The same is true for computers. I had thought, dual core would be great. Windows would run on one core and I would do my work on the other. Wrong! The reality is that Windows needs little CPU power on a consistent basis. Furthermore, most people are like me. I do one thing at a time on my PC. The reason is that I am the bottle neck. It is not possible to write a blog, and debug a program at the same time. I work in a serial manner. Yes, there are the rare instances where I am downloading a big file and I continue to work, but overall my PC is slower.

Furthermore, a slow processor impacts more than computation intensive work. It impacts everything. Since the processor is the brains of your computer, it impacts the speed of every subsystem on my computer. Check out the world rankings on my latest two laptops. You will see that the graphics, disk, and memory are all slower because of the processor.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I want a fast laptop, and I will focus first on processor clock speed. Lesson for all PC Pitstop readers. When purchasing a computer, nothing defines the performance of a computer more than the processor clock speed. The only silver lining is that a year is almost up, so it’s time to buy a new one.

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4 thoughts on “Dual Core Doldrums”

  1. I agree with PC Pitstop that MIPS is one of the better benchmarks. I have an HP EliteBook with a T-9400 Processor. Running a 1066 FSB. It is Dual-Core, and has the added bonus of vPro Technology, very handy for a consultant like myself.
    I loved the BMW analogy. I have always explained to my customers the following analogies. First, that your task is simply advanced typewriter skills. Word Processing. The limitation? How fast you can type? Second, you own a NASCAR automobile. It can do 200 MPH in just a few seconds. Reality is that you are driving in a 65 MPH speed zone. Just how fast can you really go, and is it worth risking a very costly ticket.
    Computers are Multitasking, people aren’t. The tool is capable of Multitasking, but the operator isn’t.
    I think that pretty much says it all. And why not water cool the seat your butt is on instead of the CPU!

  2. I can guage speed only by running Pitstop’s complete test, which I have on two PCs, one with a dual core and the other a single. Aside from the CPUs the PCs are identical. The rating on the X2 is, as I recall, 3847; the X1 scores, again as I recall, 2600.

  3. Hi Pete,

    Welcome to PC Pitstop. In our internal analysis at PC Pitstop, we use MIPS to evaluate performance between processors. Unfortunately, most people do not have this statistic available while buying a computer. The only proxy is clock speed, which has a host of problems but it is certainly better than nothing.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. The reason 2 processors do not equal 2 x 2 is that there are certain instructions that need the same registers. Ergo, both cpus are not 100% independant. On a serialized instruction both processors have to stop, for one to complete the serialized instruction. While the wait is an exteremly small amount of time, it will be program dependant on how many serialized instructions are coded into the particular software running. There are other times when one processor is stopped to syncronize other hardware. So, 2 x 2 4, when you talk about multiprocessing. I will look through some of my IBM mainframe books, to see if I can find the formula, which I stated earlier, the software has an affect on the formula, but is given a poission factor that can be applied for any particular job stream. Also you are very wrong about clock speed being the best indicator of fast throughput. Clock speed is just transfered to a megahertz rating, which is a much less accurate determinate of real processing speed than an MFlops rating, which takes into account the chip design, cache, etc. Pete Dillon EE/BSCS.

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