Don't rush into quad core

With the launch of its quad-core processors, Intel had grabbed the lead from AMD, but is it too soon to take advantage of it?

At ZDNet UK we get pretty excited about new technology, so our mouths were drooling at the thought of the latest quad-core chips from Intel.

But sometimes, what looks appealing in the shop window is not so easily digestible. Our early benchmarks of Intel's quad-core processor — two quad-core Xeon 5355 processors shoehorned into an Apple Mac Pro — illustrate some of the issues.

As with many advances in tech, there are some big caveats to heed with this new technology.

In our tests for instance, overall CPU utilisation fell: in a multimedia test it dropped from 40 percent in a dual two-core system (four cores in total), to 23 percent with eight cores. The performance gain was only 10 percent, and a very expensive 10 percent at that, with the chips priced currently at $999 (£524) apiece.

In other tests we found that system performance actually dropped as you move from four 3GHz cores to eight 2.66GHz cores. This stuff is clearly still for the early adopters out there.

Of course, many businesses will be looking at quad-core processors for their servers long before they consider them for desktops, where virtualisation and grid computing could make more use of the extra cores, even where ERP software is a more likely workload than massively parallel scientific applications. More cores inevitably mean more heat, and if you're running blade servers then you're also probably dealing with power densities approaching that of a small nuclear reactor.

Intel may have grabbed the lead back from AMD for now but the rival chip-maker is planning its quad-core chips sometime next year, by which time perhaps we'll see software better able to exploit them.

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