There’s a common misperception that multi-core chips are always more powerful than single-core computer chips. But the truth of the matter is that while multi-core chips can be faster than their old school brethren, especially when used with software optimized for multithreading, there’s another reason to develop chips with multiple cores: They can use less power.
Without getting too deep into the math, basically a quad-core chip running at 200 MHz can offer similar performance to a single core chip running at 1 GHz under some circumstances — but it can achieve that while running at a lower voltage. And that means it uses less energy, saving money and prolonging battery life.
So a recent report from PC World that Microsoft is asking Intel to bring a 16-core Atom chip to market doesn’t mean that Microsoft thinks Intel should make its low power Atom chips insanely powerful. Rather, the idea is that Intel’s Atom platform could be even more energy efficient with 8 times more cores than are currently available.
Microsoft says the solution would be used in its data centers, providing enough power to run the company’s Windows Live web apps while using less energy than current chips.
Intel isn’t the only player in the server space. AMD and VIA also offer x86 chips for servers, including low power chips such as the VIA Nano processor, and ARM-based chips, which have been making serious headway in the consumer tablet space, are also starting to infiltrate the server space.