Originally, computers utilized a single core to deliver functionality.
As technology developed, multi-core processors were developed to increase the speed at which programs could be run and the computer’s multitasking capabilities.
The question is, are more cores always better?
The short answer is it depends.
Deciding between dual and quad core hinges on what tasks the device will be performing and what are the required performance capabilities of the device.
Is speed the most important performance specification, or is it graphics quality or the ability to run numerous programs simultaneously?
Let’s look closer at two popular core configurations, dual core and quad core.
Dual Core Vs. Quad Core (What’s The Difference?)
Dual core and quad core are different types of multi-core CPUs.
Dual core, as the name suggests, has two separate cores while quad core utilizes four cores.
A CPU is a physical device attached to the motherboard and consists of two distinct parts: the processor and the core.
The core is housed within the processor and performs the logical functions of the computer, taking arithmetical processes and turning them into useable functions.
The processor takes the commands decoded by the core and communicates with other components in the computer to carry out the desired tasks.
How many tasks the processor can deliver per second is referred to as the clock speed and is typically measured in GHz.
The performance of a core relates directly to the clock speed of the processor.
What Is A Dual Core?
A dual core is a processing unit which houses two distinct cores, or logical units, in a single CPU.
The separate cores can act alone or in conjunction with one another to complete processing tasks.
Dual cores can divide the workload between the two cores to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
This can increase the speed and efficiency of the computer as compared to a single core.
Dual cores are ideal for multithreaded applications and programs which break down their processes into multiple threads that can be executed simultaneously.
However, a dual core is not well suited for applications with a single thread structure where each process must be completed independently of the next process.
In this case, one processor would sit idle while the other processor completed the task, leading to a slower processing time in comparison to a single core with faster clock speed.
What Is A Quad Core?
A quad core processing unit contains four distinct cores.
Like the dual core, the quad cores can work alone or together to complete tasks quicker.
The increased number of cores also allows for seamless multitasking when running numerous or complex programs.
Quad cores are highly suited to running complex programs since they spread the workload among four processing units.
However, some programs may not be designed for quad core and may leave some of the processing units idle.
This, added to the slower clock speed of quad cores, can reduce efficiency.
Dual Core Vs. Quad Core: Performance
In the dual core versus quad core debate, numerous factors must be taken into consideration.
The speed at which processes can be executed is only one factor.
Other factors, such as the power the device consumes, the heat it produces, the cache it has access to, its graphics compatibility, its multi-tasking capabilities, and its price, must also be considered.
The speed of dual and quad cores is dependent upon the clock speed of the processor.
The clock speed is the rate at which a CPU can complete an operation in one second measured in GHz.
The faster the clock speed, the faster the processing capabilities of the computer.
For example, a dual core with a clock speed of 2.80 GHz can perform more quickly than a quad core with a clock speed of 2.33 GHz.
Even though the quad core can run processes on four separate cores at once, the time each core takes to complete a process is still only 2.33 GHz which is slower than a dual core completing processes at a rate of 2.80 GHz.
Dual cores can also be overclocked with less potential for catastrophic failure as compared to a quad core.
Overclocking is the process forcing your CPU to run at higher rates than it is designed to.
Quad cores are generally designed to handle multiple processes and programs at once and run fixed clock speeds, so overclocking a quad core can lead to excessive heat production and catastrophic failure.
The type of process being performed can also affect speed.
A single threaded application will run quicker on a dual core than on a quad core since a single core in the dual core clocks faster than a single core in a quad core.
Also, some applications are not designed for quad cores, which would make a dual core more efficient.
In the quad core, two cores would remain idle while the other two cores worked.
However, for multithreaded and highly complex applications, the quad core would be faster since it can spread the workload across four cores at the same time.
A quad core would also be faster when running multiple programs at once, even if the programs were single threaded or not designed for quad core processing.
That quad core could run four single-threaded processes simultaneously while a dual core would only be able to run two.
2. Power Consumption
Computers process code by passing electrical current through transistors.
The transistor either allows for electrical current to run through it (is ON) or blocks the current (is OFF).
The power consumed by a CPU is directly related to the number of cores it houses.
A dual core would only be triggering two sets of transistors while a quad core would be using four.
Hence, the more cores, the more power consumed.
Clock speed also plays a role in power consumption.
The higher the clock speed, the more power is consumed.
Increased power consumption in a desktop may not be a significant detraction for some users.
However, the reduced battery life of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops can factor heavily into the debate of dual core versus quad core.
3. Heat Generation
Heat is produced in a CPU due to the electrical current that is needed to switch the transistors in the computer on and off.
The more transistors used at once, and the quicker the rate, the more heat is produced.
Like power consumption, the amount of heat generated by a CPU is related to the number of cores it utilizes and the clock speed at which it processes.
Quad cores generate more heat since there are more transistors in use at once.
The increased heat production means that a quad core requires more extensive cooling mechanisms to avoid overheating.
Smaller devices such as smartphones and tablets do not have the physical capacity to house cooling systems which leads to hot devices when used extensively.
The cache in a CPU is a small storage space built directly into the unit which is used to house information frequently accessed by programs.
Housing the cache close to the core allows for faster computing.
For example, if you need to do a load of laundry, keeping the detergent and fabric softener next to the washing machine will reduce the amount of time it takes to start a load as compared to keeping the detergent and softener on the opposite side of the house.
Caches work the same way by keeping the most frequently used information close to the core.
Most CPUs have L1, L2, and L3 caches assigned to the cores.
Cores typically have their own dedicated L1 and L2 cache to house the core’s most frequently accessed information.
Each core, however, shares an L3 cache in the CPU.
The L3 cache is divided equally between all cores.
Quad cores share this group cache between four cores while dual cores only have two cores to spit between.
However, many quad core CPUs are built with a larger L3 cache to account for this consideration.
Multi-tasking is the ability of a computer to run multiple programs at once, such as browsing the web while streaming music and downloading a movie simultaneously.
A quad core is more capable of multi-tasking since it can run four programs on four separate cores at the same time without one interfering with another or having to wait for a program to finish before it can execute.
This does not necessarily mean that the quad core is faster, but that it is more capable of running multiple programs at once by dividing the workload between the four cores.
Running numerous applications on a dual core can overwhelm the system since it only has two cores to share the load, leading to errors and slowed computing speed.
A GPU, or graphics processing unit, is a specialized processor designed to accelerate the process of graphics rendering.
Graphics rendering is the process by which a computer takes code and turns it into a 2D or 3D image which can be viewed and manipulated.
GPUs also use hyper-threading and multithreading to increase rendering latency.
The GPU works in conjunction with the CPU to render graphics such as images, animations, and videos on the display. Since GPUs are so resource intensive, the more cores a CPU has, the better the graphics performance.
The price of dual and quad cores is determined by more than just the number of cores the CPU houses.
Factors such as clock speed, cache, and number of transistors can affect the price.
However, a quad core processor with the same clock speed and architecture as a dual core will be more expensive.
Dual Core Vs. Quad Core: Applications
Performance factors are just one side of the dual core versus quad core debate.
The other side is the intended use of the computer.
Let’s look at which core design performs better when applied to specific applications and tasks.
1. Basic Computing
For everyday computing needs such as browsing the internet, playing a video, or running common, simple programs, either a dual or quad core processor would be sufficient.
Dual cores, however, can offer faster clock speeds, lower power consumptions, longer battery life, lower heat output, and a lower price point giving dual cores an edge over quad cores for basic computing needs.
Image, video, and music editing software allows for the manipulation of photos, videos, and sound.
This manipulation is highly complex and requires a powerful processor and GPU to accomplish tasks quickly and seamlessly.
Editing software also requires numerous plug-ins for increased functionality.
A plug-in is a separate component designed to enhance the host program such as an imported filter, sound effect, or video style.
Plug-ins are separate threads from the host program and require their own processing power.
Quad cores are more suited to this type of work due to the availability of four separate cores to perform processes at once.
Also, a hyper-threaded quad core essentially provided eight cores of processing power for highly complex tasks.
Deciding whether a dual or quad core is more effective for gaming depends on additional factors.
Once again, clock speed is also a determining factor.
A faster clock speed on a dual core produces a faster response time and reduces lag when compared to a slower clock speed on a quad core.
However, a quad core can handle more powerful GPUs which leads to better resolution and faster rendering.
Games that are graphic intensive benefit from the use of additional cores.
Some proponents for dual cores, however, site the dual core’s quicker clock speed as taking precedent over core number.
When used in conjunction with a powerful GPU, the dual core may function just as well as a quad core.
The type of game being played also factors into the debate.
Games are designed to be compatible with dual, quad, or even more cores.
For games requiring more cores, a computer running fewer cores would not be as capable of handling the load while games designed for dual cores would perform slower on quad core configurations.
4. 3D Modeling And Animation
3D modeling is the process of rendering an image in three dimensions using mathematical calculations.
These images can then be manipulated and animated to achieve a desired effect.
Programs that perform 3D modeling and animation are highly resource intensive.
These types of programs require numerous threads and plug-ins to be run simultaneously.
The multithreading and hyper-threading capability of a quad core makes it easily the more effective choice for these tasks.
Dual cores, while capable of multithreading and hyper-threading, can still become bogged down by the numerous services and plugins which are required to run 3D modeling and animation programs effectively.
What Is A Thread?
When a command is entered into a computer, the computer begins a process, or set of instructions, which tells the computer what to do to execute the command.
A thread is the smallest section of code which the process uses to divide the instructions.
Think of it this way.
You need to start your car.
The process of starting a car can be broken down into steps such as grabbing the keys, opening the door, putting the key in the ignition, depressing the brake, and turning the key.
Each one of these steps would be a thread.
A single core would execute each of these threads in their proper order, executing the next thread when the first thread is completed.
What Is Multithreading?
Multithreading is the ability to perform multiple threads at once.
When starting a car, if you grabbed the keys and opened the door at the same time and then depressed the brake and put the key in the ignition simultaneously, you would be multithreading.
Separate tasks are being completed at the same time which increases the speed at which a task is performed.
Computer processes work the same way.
Multithreading occurs when multiple threads execute simultaneously.
What Is Hyper-Threading?
Hyper-threading is the ability to split a single core into two separate virtual cores.
This creates a virtual dual core on a single core.
Multithreading and hyper-threading differ in that multithreading is produced at the process level and hyper-threading is produced at the core level.
It would be like having two separate people completing the steps to start the car at the same time.
One person could grab the keys while the other person opened the door and then one person depressed the brake while the other put the key in the ignition.
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