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Embedded Developers See Double

By John Blyler

By all accounts, the most significant change in today's embedded-design projects is the move to dual processors (e.g., putting two or more processors on a single chip). The lure of dual cores over traditional single-chip CPUs is simple: lower power consumption with better system performance. The embedded community has heard these promises before, however. Many developers wonder if this new technology implementation will "double their pleasure" or cause "double trouble."

Seasoned developers know the answer to this riddle all too well: Both concerns are true. Dual cores hold great promise for improved performance with significantly lower power consumption. Instead of a single high-performance, high-energy- consuming chip, these cores use a pair of slightly slower processors to perform more work using less power. Another major plus for dual cores is the focusing of computational workloads. With a multi-core chip, performance speeds are improved by devoting one processor to a single task rather than continually interrupting its work with competing priorities. These benefits are significant. They also help to explain why Intel and other chip manufacturers are serious about multi-core-chip technology.

But developers know that even the coolest technology has a dark side. One of the biggest obstacles in creating multi-core applications is the proper use of multi-thread instruction sets--in other words, the software. If the best tools and support mechanisms aren't in play to help software developers utilize the features that are inherent in multi-core systems, this technology leads to nothing but "double trouble."

How serious is Intel's commitment to multi-core chip technology? Quite serious, if the number of emerging product lines is any indication. For example, Intel has several multi-core product families now available, including the Intel® Core™ Duo processors and the recently introduced Dual-Core Intel® Xeon™ processor LV 2.0.

Another indication of Intel's commitment to multi-core systems was evident at their recent Intel Developers Forum (IDF). This event has been held twice yearly to outline the company's strategic direction and showcase new technology. One big announcement from this year's forum was Intel's extended lifecycle support for the Core™ Duo processors.

In terms of specific software support, the company provides a complete set of tools to help developers achieve higher application performance and fully utilize multi-threading or concurrent-threading techniques. Those tools include compilers, performance analyzers, and thread checkers. At IDF, the company also announced that it would work with universities to teach multi-core programming. To help generate interest, it announced promotional contests that promise $5000 prizes to developers who solve various multi-threading software problems.

Another indication of Intel's focus on multi-core technology is the recent IDF announcement of its Core microarchitecture. Hoping to renew its x86-based product line, the microarchitecture will form the foundation for Intel® architecture-based desktop, mobile and mainstream server multi-core processors. According to the company, several systems based on the Core microarchitecture will be released throughout this year and next. They include the Woodcrest platform for servers, Conroe for desktop PCs, and Merom for mobile PCs. The Core microarchitecture will form the basis for the new line of dual-core and quad-core processors in 2007. Granted, these technologies are designed for desktop - not embedded- applications. But they indicate Intel's commitment to multi-core development. Further, some of these platforms may eventually be adopted for power-sensitive embedded applications.

With so much going on in the dual-core processor arena, it's only natural that this issue of Embedded Intel® Solutions (EIS) magazine contains several news and editorial articles that cover this important technology. Of course, you'll find a wide range of other topics in this issue ranging from code-optimization techniques and open-hardware challenges to design hints for wireless networks and mobile applications. Developers and others can keep abreast of the latest market and standards issues by reading the popular -Watch- columns.

Feel free to share your comments or observations with our readers by contacting me at jblyler@extensionmedia.com.