Multi-Core Processor – A single computing component with two or more independent actual processing units (called “cores”), which are the units that read and execute program instructions. The instructions are ordinary CPU instructions such as add, move data, and branch, but the multiple cores can run multiple instructions at the same time, increasing overall speed for programs amenable to parallel computing. Manufacturers typically integrate the cores onto a single integrated circuit die (known as a chip multiprocessor or CMP), or onto multiple dies in a single chip package.
Processors were originally developed with only one core. In the mid 1980s Rockwell International manufactured versions of the 6502 with two 6502 cores on one chip as the R65C00, R65C21, and R65C29, sharing the chip’s pins on alternate clock phases. Other multi-core processors were developed in the early 2000s by Intel, AMD and others.
Multi-core processors may have two cores (dual-core CPUs, for example, AMD Phenom II X2 and Intel Core Duo), three cores (tri-core CPUs, for example, AMD Phenom II X3), four cores (quad-core CPUs, for example, AMD Phenom II X4, Intel’s i5 and i7 processors), six cores (hexa-core CPUs, for example, AMD Phenom II X6 and Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 980X), eight cores (octa-core CPUs, for example, Intel Xeon E7-2820 and AMD FX-8350), ten cores (deca-core CPUs, for example, Intel Xeon E7-2850), or more.
A multi-core processor implements multiprocessing in a single physical package. Designers may couple cores in a multi-core device tightly or loosely. For example, cores may or may not share caches, and they may implement message passing or shared-memory inter-core communication methods. Common network topologies to interconnect cores include bus, ring, two-dimensional mesh, and crossbar. Homogeneous multi-core systems include only identical cores, heterogeneous multi-core systems have cores that are not identical. Just as with single-processor systems, cores in multi-core systems may implement architectures such as VLIW, superscalar, vector, or multithreading.
Multi-core processors are widely used across many application domains including general-purpose, embedded, network, digital signal processing (DSP), and graphics (GPU).
The improvement in performance gained by the use of a multi-core processor depends very much on the software algorithms used and their implementation. In particular, possible gains are limited by the fraction of the software that can be run in parallel simultaneously on multiple cores; this effect is described by Amdahl’s law. In the best case, so-called embarrassingly parallel problems may realize speedup factors near the number of cores, or even more if the problem is split up enough to fit within each core’s cache(s), avoiding use of much slower main system memory. Most applications, however, are not accelerated so much unless programmers invest a prohibitive amount of effort in re-factoring the whole problem. The parallelization of software is a significant ongoing topic of research.