How Does a Dual Core Processor Work?

By Katy Lindamood

How Does a Dual Core Processor Work?
i Image: Courtesy of Dennis Schmitz

What are Dual Core Processors

A dual core processor is one of the newest advancements in computing technology. They were heavily implemented in desktop computers beginning in 2005, allowing computers to process significantly more data than a single core processor can.

Dual core processors split the incoming data stream into two pieces, which are calculated simultaneously, leading to a speed increase in processing heavy applications. Each dual core processor has two separate computing modules linked together into a single unit.

How do Dual Core Processors Work

The dual core processor differs from a single core in that the single core processor must take the incoming data bits one at a time, process that bit of data and move on the next one. A dual core process detects incoming data streams and determines whether they could be calculated more quickly if both cores were working. If that's the case, the dual-core processor will split the data and crunch the numbers at the same time, effectively doubling the processor's speed. While of limited use for applications that aren't "processor intensive" they really shine when working with high level calculations or even computer games. When new data is loaded into the cache, it is pulled from the hard drive. Because the CPU can typically process data faster than the storage media it's pulling from, performance suffers. In a dual-core processor, the data is pulled by each processor when needed. A dual-core processor The data streams are processed at the same time, and once the data is calculated, the processors mesh the data back into a single usable stream. This isn't to be confused with a multi-processor system, in which all processors reside on the same chip. The multi-processor system, because of the way the data is split and reintegrated, can be significantly faster than a dual-core setup.

Software Requirements

Dual core processors are limited, however, in that they are software dependent. The software for each program must be able to organize the data sent to both processing cores, otherwise the dual-cores won't recognize the data properly, and only one processing core is used. The programs that will benefit most from dual-core processors are those that support multi-threading. These programs incorporate coding that tells the processors how to best split the data to acheive the best speeds. Because dual-core setups are software dependent, software developers are integrating the ability to send multiple threads to the dual processing cores, thus allowing the programs to convert their data twice as quickly. While this was originally only a benefit to customers using, for example, graphics rendering programs, in recent years the software industry has begun to catch up with the latest hardware. Now, quad-core processors aren't uncommon, using 4 processing cores instead of 1 or 2. That means that, in graphics and processing-heavy tasks, computers will be able to handle significantly more data than ever before.