There has always been a debate over what is better, more raw speed, or more work done per clock tick. Though many would like both, it is usually not that easy a choice. The people over at AMD long ago gave up the quest for absolute speed, choosing instead to get more work done in fewer ticks of the clock.

Now, with the advent of multiple cores in a CPU chip, it is a question of higher speed with fewer cores, or lower speed on a higher number of cores. For gaming, higher speed on a lower number of cores works well, but for most all other chores on the computer, more cores is what gets the nod.

The more the better. It’s almost like the auto racing maxim, “There is no substitute for cubic inches.” In modern computing, there is no substitute for a surfeit of cores.

Imagine looking at your server farm and wondering how you could pack more cores in the same space… Or your current CPU tower, and how nice it would be to slide in a few more cores with the snap of the finger.


Quick, which would you rather have, higher clock speeds or more CPU cores? The correct answer, of course, is a both, which is what separates enthusiasts who roll their own rigs from the civilians who buy their PCs at Best Buy with a Geek Squad set-up plan. But as power users, we’re not so blinded by technology that we fail to realize software development has a long way to go to catch up with today’s multi-core hardware. Partly for this reason, when AMD launched its 12-core AMD Opteron (you may know it as "Magny Cours") there was some internal uncertainty as to how it would be received. Not anymore.


"In looking through sales data for the first half of 2010, 12-core processors clearly outsold their 8-core counterparts — by a wide margin," AMD’s John Fruehe said. "I was expecting that there would be a slight bias towards the 12-core, but I figured there were plenty of applications where the extra clock speed of an 8-core might be popular. Apparently, I was wrong, customers are voting with their budgets, and cores matter."

The way Fruehe sees it, as much as AMD would like to take credit for this phenomenon, the trend towards 12-core chips is really "just an indicator that the business world is hungry for more cores." And forget about bragging rights, in the business world, having more cores comes in handy for more than posting on your favorite forum the highest synthetic score you can achieve.

"Many customers have told me that they have a rule of ‘one VM per core,’ so with 12-core processors, their consolidation can get even denser," Fruehe explains. "With 24 cores in a 2P server, there are plenty of resources to allow all of the VMs to have plenty of access to compute power whenever they need it."

Other areas Fruehe sees 12-core processors becoming a popular option is in large databases and high performance computing, like Switzerland’s new Cray XE6 supercomputer. This awesome system uses AMD 8- and 12-core chips to crunch through 12.2 to 20.2 teraflops per system cabinet.

"So, when it comes to core counts, our customers are sending a pretty clear signal us: Cores Matter. That message is very good to hear because next year will see 16 total cores in our Bulldozer-based products," Fruehe said.

What do you think is the current core-count ‘sweet spot’? Are you looking forward to having more cores on the desktop, or is the hardware getting too far ahead of the software?

I know I am looking forward to having more than four cores, as that has become kind of old hat, as we watch the loads move between cores, and wish that more work could get done.

No kidding. You simply get used to something and never look back. Can you imagine what it was like in the days of the Pentium III or the AMD K7?  (I can, as I still find myself working on them, but for those that have experienced speed, 2 cores is the bare minimum.


Critics search for ages for the wrong word, which, to give them credit, they eventually find.

– Peter Ustinov