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Multi-core processing refers to the use of multiple microprocessors, called "cores," that are built onto a single silicon die. The chip is mounted onto a computer motherboard in precisely the same way as a traditional CPU. There is nothing new about the concept of stringing processors together, a technique known as multiprocessing; however, a multi-core processor is a bit different. A multi-core processor acts as a single unit. As such, it is more efficient, and establishes a standardized platform, for which mass-produced software can easily be developed.
The design of a multi-core processor allows for each core to communicate with the others, so that processing tasks may be divided and delegated appropriately. However, the actual delegation is dictated by software. When a task is completed, the processed information from all cores is returned to the motherboard via a single shared conduit. This process can often significantly improve performance over a single-core processor of comparable speed. The degree of performance improvement will depend upon the efficiency of the software code being run.
In addition to raw speed, these new chips vastly increase the amount of multi-tasking that computers can do. Initially, the practical applications of multi-core processors were severely limited, because many software products of the time were not designed to take full advantage of them. The gap was quickly closed, as a new generation of operating systems became available, along with new generations of commercial software, including games, simulation products, and even office productivity applications. Software developers quickly shifted their priorities to exploit the new hardware to its fullest.
Multi-core processing has interrupted the on-going race among chip designers to create ever faster processors. By using multiple slower cores, it is possible to achieve higher clock-speeds more efficiently than by designing super-fast individual processors. When personal computers using multi-core processing technology first became widely available to consumers in 2003 and 2004, the new CPUs featured only dual-core processors. This quickly changed in subsequent years, with multi-core processing becoming the standard. Quad-core, and octo-core processors will then allow for chips containing literally hundreds of cores, or more.
Multi-core processing is not limited to the realm of personal computers. Many other electronic devices, including game consoles, industrial electronics, super computers, as well as PC hardware components, such as the graphics processors on video cards, are embracing this technology as it becomes increasingly commonplace, and affordable.