Commentary & Analysis
How New CPUs Reduce Operating Costs
By Pat Taylor,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: August 17, 2006
By Pat Taylor, Proactive Technologies August 17, 2006 -- New CPUs are one of the tricks computer vendors pull out of the marketing arsenal to entice new customers and get more business out of existing ones. After all, there's Moore's Law, that oft-quoted dictum that sometimes seems to be pessimistic about the rate at which computer chips evolve. In reality, though, CPUs really can be important and at the end of the day can actually save your business money. Take for example, the relationship between dual core processors and operating profits. And I'm not about to rely on hopscotch logic, so the argument for this new technology will be straight-forward. From sales guy to lab rat, a "3x performance improvement" number will prompt nodding heads in every department. Going to the Dual Core Intel released the first of its new dual core processors earlier this year; the original CoreDuo was a Pentium 4 meant for deployment in desktop machines and entry-level servers. Last month, the business-critical server versions (Dual-Core Xeons) became available to the channel. At the risk of sounding dramatic, these new processors are freakin' our Geekers out. In general terms, the new 3.0 GHz dual core processors are 3x faster than the 3.4 GHz [single core] processors still being produced and sold. This performance factor is not shaded, slanted, or otherwise skewed; it is an average performance improvement number upon which everyone in our shop can agree. From the sales guys looking for the best business justification possible to the lab rats obsessed with statistical accuracy, a "3x performance improvement" number will prompt nodding heads in every department. When the dual-core workstation becomes available, business productivity will begin to change. Dual-Core is why Apple made the change from its perennial partnership with IBM (and the PowerPC processor) to Intel. I expect that --before year end-- we'll see Apple Xserve sporting the new processors. We haven't tested the platform, but anticipate phenomenal performance statistics from the OS X operating system. When the dual-core workstation becomes available, business productivity will begin to change. Benchmarking One of the important jobs we do in our labs is benchmark platforms for software companies that cater to the unique needs of the printing industry. We load workflow or proofing software on test machines and feed those machines a set of standard test files. The test machines will include one server built using current technology; this provides a baseline that we can use for comparison with other configurations. A second test machine will feature the latest, greatest technology bundle we can assemble. Additional servers are used to test variations in disk drive technologies, available memory, and processor matrices. At the end of the benchmarking effort, we will know precisely how to optimize platforms for that particular piece of software, and how much the "new technology" means to overall system performance. So, while we are not allowed to share product-specific information I can share some general observations regarding our testing of the new dual core server technology. Across the board, industry workflow and proofing products consistently demonstrate a 3x increase in performance. Using industry-leading workflow software, one set of test files required more than an hour and a quarter to process on our single-core Xeons. After upgrading the test platform to Dual-Core Xeon components, the test file processing time was reduced to "just over" 20 minutes. During a different benchmarking effort, one of the proofing products we tested realized a similar benefit. Using the manufacturer's test files, a single-core CPU could feed the output device as fast as it could plot. Replacing the single-core machine with a similarly configured dual-core computer gave us enough horsepower to drive three plotters at full speed. Across the board, industry workflow and proofing products consistently demonstrate a 3x increase in performance. If a printer can buy one machine to do the job of three, he's decreasing operating costs and increasing profits. Simple math and undeniable logic. In time, code monkeys will write more functionality into their software, and that functionality will demand dual-core technology platforms. Then quad-core processors will make their debut. Hardware and software playing leapfrog; it's the nature of the computer industry. Right now, the big leap presents an opportunity for us to do more with less. Many workflow and proofing products will tolerate an upgrade in the server platform supporting it. With dual-core, that upgrade is worth consideration.