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Programming IT Technology

Faster Chips Are Leaving Programmers in Their Dust 573

mlimber writes "The New York Times is running a story about multicore computing and the efforts of Microsoft et al. to try to switch to the new paradigm: "The challenges [of parallel programming] have not dented the enthusiasm for the potential of the new parallel chips at Microsoft, where executives are betting that the arrival of manycore chips — processors with more than eight cores, possible as soon as 2010 — will transform the world of personal computing.... Engineers and computer scientists acknowledge that despite advances in recent decades, the computer industry is still lagging in its ability to write parallel programs." It mirrors what C++ guru and now Microsoft architect Herb Sutter has been saying in articles such as his "The Free Lunch Is Over: A Fundamental Turn Toward Concurrency in Software." Sutter is part of the C++ standards committee that is working hard to make multithreading standard in C++."
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Faster Chips Are Leaving Programmers in Their Dust

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  • The basic problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ucblockhead ( 63650 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @01:55PM (#21727292) Homepage Journal
    Some algorithms are inherently not amenable to parallelization. If you have eight cores instead of one, then the performance boost you can get can be anywhere from eight times faster to none at all.

    So far, multiple cores have boosted performance mostly because the typical user has multiple applications running at a time. But as the number of cores increases, the beneficial effects diminish dramatically.

    In addition, most applications these days are not CPU bound. Having eight cores doesn't help you much when three are waiting on socket calls, four are waiting on disk access calls and the last is waiting for the graphics card.
  • Re:2005 Called (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @01:55PM (#21727302) Homepage
    It's not just making your app multithreaded, it's completely changing your algorithms so they they take advantage of multiple processors. I took a parallel programming course in University, so I'm by no means an expert, but I'll give what insight I have. You can't just take a standard sort algorithm and run in multithreaded. You have to change the entire algorithm. In the end, you end up with something that sorts faster than n log (n). However, doing this type of programming where you break up the dataset, sort each set, and then gather the results can be very difficult. Many debuggers don't deal well with multiple threads, so that adds an extra layer of difficulty to the whole problem. Granted, I don't think that we really need this level of multithreadedness, but I think that's what the article is referring to. I think that 10+ core CPUs will only really help for those of us who like to do multiple things at the same time. I think it would even be beneficial to keep most apps tied to a single CPU so that a run-away app wouldn't take over the entire computer.
  • Re:OS/2? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eMartin ( 210973 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:05PM (#21727472)
    Neither does Microsoft's Outlook Express, but I don't think that was his point.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:08PM (#21727520) Homepage Journal
    "But seriously, isn't the OS responsible for the heavy lifting with regards to task scheduling and concurrency? Oh, wait, this is Microsoft, right? Perhaps this is similar to their take on Security being somebody else's problem."
    My guess is that you never wrote any code.
    Linux doesn't do any more heavy lifting for you than Windows does. I doubt that OS/X does.
    So what are you talking about.
    An OS will never figure out what part of your program is going to need to be in which thread. A compiler MAY at some time do it but they are just now doing a good job with vectors.
  • Re:2005 Called (Score:1, Insightful)

    by workdeville ( 1166127 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:09PM (#21727526)
    He said n log n, not O(n log n). So he's right.
  • Re:2005 Called (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrSteveSD ( 801820 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:12PM (#21727572)
    A lot of multi-threading up until now has been about keeping applications responsive, rather than breaking up tasks. That makes sense since muti-core chips haven't been around that long in most peoples homes. Another issue is that once you have more than one processor, two threads really can run at the same time which can show up all kinds of bugs you would never notice on a single core system. The main problem I can see is with testing for errors. With multiple threads it's up to the OS on how it juggles them around and that juggling may be different for every test run. So you could run the same test a hundred times, then suddenly, you could get a failure. So multi-threading throws in a certain random aspect into the software which never used to be there.
  • by Nonillion ( 266505 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:24PM (#21727770)
    processors with more than eight cores, possible as soon as 2010 -- will transform the world of personal computing....


    Code will get even more inefficient / bloated and require faster hardware to do the same thing you are doing now. While I'm all for better / faster computer hardware, most if not all Jane and Joe Sixpack users never need Super Computer power to surf the net, read e-mail and watch videos.
  • Re:Oh, wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bladesjester ( 774793 ) <slashdot AT jameshollingshead DOT com> on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:25PM (#21727786) Homepage Journal
    A guy who's on the C++ standards committee AND works for Microsoft.

    Actually, according to the latest Dr Dobbs, Herb is the *chair* of the ISO C++ Standards committee. (He had an article on lock hierarchies being used to avoid deadlock)

    He's really going to know what he's talking about, then.

    As chair of the committee, I'd say there's a pretty fair chance that he *does*.

    I really love people who bash things just because Microsoft is involved. Contrary to what seems to be a popular belief here, they have some incredibly intelligent people who are very good at what they do there.
  • by bogie ( 31020 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:28PM (#21727848) Journal
    "So this begs the question, exactly how will average consumer benefit from an OS and software that can make optimum use of multiple cores"

    AOL 10.0 will say "You got mail!" .25ms faster.
  • by deweycheetham ( 1124655 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:44PM (#21728052)
    It's the OS Stupid, Not Parallel Programming !!!

    Just because the latest and greatest release of a New OS by a certain vendor is dog slow doesn't mean it's time to start blaming Programmers and calling them LAME.

    There are several good Operating Systems out there that handle multiple threads on multi core machines just fine. They even do this in there basic scripting languages native to those Operating Systems and many have been doing them since the 70's.

    There are techniques out there that handle work just fine in a Parallel Program/Core Environments. On a side note, Data Encapsulated Object Oriented techniques are not always the best way handle performance issues. A look back in time has the several answers to this question and more. (Less We Forget)

    --- Old engineers never die, they just build away. (By deweycheetham) ---
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:51PM (#21728148) Homepage

    I have little hope for the C++ standards committee. It's dominated by people who think really l33t templates are really cool. Everything has to be a template feature. They're fooling around with a proposal for declaring variables atomic through something like atomic<int> n; This allows really l33t programmers to write really l33t code using really l33t lockless programming. But without the proofs of correctness needed to make that actually work reliably.

    It's also long been Strostrup's position that concurrency is a library problem. As long as the OS provides threads and locking, it's not a language problem. This isn't good enough.

    The fundamental problem is that, as currently defined, a C++ compiler has no idea which variables are shared between threads, and which are never shared. The compiler has no notion of critical sections. Fixing this requires some fundamental changes to the language. It's known what to do; Modula, Ada, and Java all have synchronization and isolation built into the language. But there's nothing like that in C++, and the designers of C++ don't want to admit their mistakes.

    It's not just a C++ problem. Python has a similar issue. Python as a language doesn't deal with concurrency adequately. The main implementation, CPython, has a "global interpreter lock" that slows the thing down to single-CPU speed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:52PM (#21728166)
    i've heard that before. just like joe sixpack didn't need high bandwith connection ? in came Youtubes, online photoprints, pornovideos (instead of jpegs), and whatevers. Maybe Joe Sixpack doesn't need multiple cores now but could it be that he just might find use for them in the future ?
  • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @02:56PM (#21728218) Journal
    You point out that few desktop tasks require parallel processing... but think about the flip-side of this: if we could speed-up many tasks, how would that affect desktop computing?

    There are plenty of tasks that people do routinely on computers that are not "instantaneously" fast (spreadsheets, photo-editing, etc.). Furthermore there are many aspects of modern user interfaces that would be better if they were faster (generating thumbnail previews, sorting entries, rescanning music collections, searching, etc.). Also, it's important to realize that the commonplace desktop elements of tomorrow may not have been imagined today. Many things that we don't even consider (and certainly don't consider as "necessary") may become possible (and thus "necessary") with greater computer power (complex graphs/images/previews that update in realtime as a user slides a control, instantaneous re-encoding of video when you drag-and-drop to an external device, etc.).

    My only point is that it is tempting to say that computers are "fast enough" and yet in my own computer-use (and watching the computer use of others) there are definitely times when the user must wait for the computer to finish a task (whether it is a split-second page render or a many-seconds refresh of a spreadsheet or a many-minute generation of a complex image). Until all of these tasks are "instantaneous" (shorter than human reaction time), then there is definite room for improvement in computer speed; and moreover improvements that the end-user will appreciate and come to rely on.

    You'll notice that of the examples I've mentioned, many of them could in principle be parallelized (and thus benefit from multi-core systems).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2007 @03:01PM (#21728286)
    The heat transfer problem has not been solved for thick, 3D processors with millions of transistors.
  • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @03:09PM (#21728398)
    People used to optimise everything way back when, but now I suspect that most people just let the faster processor take care of things rather than trying to squeeze every nanosecond of performance out of their apps :(

    Thank God for that.

    I'm glad that coders today can use high-level tools and languages without having to spend half their time on performance tweaking.

    Take as an example a game like Halo (or Guitar Hero, or World of Warcraft, or whatever your favorite modern game is). If the developers of these titles had to execute the same amount of care in optimization as developers did on the Atari 2600 -- where often, the author had to unroll simple countdown loops because they could not afford the overheard of DEC and BEQ instructions -- yes, the game kernel would probably run twice as fast. But on the other hand, each game would take a decade to complete!

    I'd happily trade some (but not all) efficiency in program execution for an increase in efficiency in program authoring. And that's exactly what we've done.
  • by White Flame ( 1074973 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @03:09PM (#21728406)

    Fine grained (spread your for loops across processors) and coarse grained parallelism (different independent actors exchanging messages and working on tasks separately) are two completely different approaches, though they generally use the same mechanisms. Everybody always focuses on the fine grained and how that affects algorithms, but I personally believe that personal computing yields more benefit from coarse grained parallelism, where nothing in your program blocks because every task that it's performing is independent. Having modal, sequential operations that you have to wait for your computer perform before you get control back for an unrelated task in the same program is absolutely absurd in this day and age.

    The few instances where a personal application does spend significant time in a single task (media manipulation, mostly) could use fine grained parallelism, but that is not the common case. Stop whining about algorithm parallelism and get your system/application design broken out into independent components and tasks properly.

    Besides, as others have said, neither is particularly difficult to do properly. It's when you try to hack in threaded shared access without having properly contained the mutable data that you shoot yourself in the foot.

  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @03:23PM (#21728684)

    Exactly what areas of "personal computing" are requiring this horsepower?

    Video, audio, gaming, emulators, and VMs are starters. But I think you're missing some of the picture. Most computer users have one or two programs open at a time and end up quitting everything when they want to run something processor intensive like a game or photoshop. With the move towards multi-core and with a little work from developers, people might be able to leave 90% of the apps they use running, all the time. Multiple cores also provides something of a buffer. When a thread goes rogue, their machine does not grind to a halt. Heck, just yesterday my girlfriend was complaining because she tried to open a page in Firefox and it locked up the whole application including the other 8 tabs she had open. That means she had to kill it (which took a while itself) and then try to decide if she wanted to reopen all those tabs and risk it locking up again, or just try to remember what she had open and reopen them all by hand. If each tab, however is running in its own thread and there are enough cores to handle it, this could easily have been a much better experience for her. She could have just closed the unresponsive tab.

    Basically, I'd argue that if you provide the resources, smart developers will find a way to make clever use of those resources. Dual core has already sparked a revolution for virtualization and led to some other, really cool OS changes to increase speed. Many cores will provide diminishing returns (we have 2 eyes for a reason), but I bet 8 cores will be well utilized within a few years.

  • by djelovic ( 322078 ) <dejan@jel[ ]c.com ['ovi' in gap]> on Monday December 17, 2007 @03:34PM (#21728928) Homepage
    > This makes multi-core programming almost a no-brainer.

    What uttermost and complete crap.

    We are nowhere near multi-core programming being a no-brainer.

    Here's what we know right now:

    1. We know how to manually create threads to perform specialized tasks. This comes nowhere near the ideal which is loading all the CPUs roughly the same, taking in account CPU affinity for some tasks in order to keep the caches warm and work well on NUMA architectures.

    2. We know how to exploit data parallelism in those cases where we have large quantities of data.

    Other than that we are still trying to find any paradigm that would make arbitrary systems scale well on a massive number of cores. Some of them are based on pi calculus, some on join calculus, some on more practical foundations.

    At this point some things are obvious:

    1. CPU threads are useless except as part of the foundation on which other abstractions are built. All really scalable systems use either lightweight threads/processes or smaller tasks which are scheduled in user space.

    2. Native stacks are evil.

    3. Thread affinity, as implemented by Windows USER and GDI modules and STAs is evil. Don't know how this works under Linux as I never did any GUI work there but I assume many components have similar limitations.

    4. Any solution that exposes locks to the user instead of hiding them in the infrastructure is evil. Locks are not composable are very error-prone in real-world scenarios.

  • Re:2005 Called (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bfields ( 66644 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @03:42PM (#21729142) Homepage
    Oh, good grief--since the original poster didn't specify units, and since it's highly unlikely the running time would be exactly n log n for any choice of units, and since it's pretty common to leave out the O() in casual conversation, the only sensible interpretation is that the O() was implied....
  • by 0xABADC0DA ( 867955 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @03:45PM (#21729204)

    There is, and will always be, overhead associated with parallelization. It may sound great to say "oh, we can farm out parts of this data set to other cores!", but that requires a lot of start-up and tear-down synchronization.
    I think what you meant to say is that with os threads it requires a lot of effort and overhead. For example on Tera/Cray's MTA it took basically no extra overhead at all to run a loop in parallel over N hardware threads. The only 'hard' part was letting the compiler know which loops to do in parallel.

    The problem with os threads is that the things the benefit the most from parallel processing are the finest grained, but the os threads are only usable for the coarsest grained problems. So, OS threads are generally only useful for concurrency and not for parallel execution. Ie meaning that os threads can let you do two mostly different 'tasks' at the same time (repainting the GUI while the data is being processed), but are really bad at actually making a single task run faster.

    You can, sometimes, with incredible effort make os threads run one task faster. But that doesn't change the fact that they are a really really bad solution for this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2007 @04:05PM (#21729714)
    I wonder how he'd like it if every GUI program he ran was only a UI that then spawned other processes which would send UI updates via IPC. Things would be an absolute mess. Threads, if only for this one task (a separate thread to ensure a responsive GUI), are absolutely necessary.

    You can say that threads are over-used by programmers who don't understand the reasons why you'd use a separate process instead, but I don't think you can say that threads don't have areas in programming where they're almost essential.
  • Re:2005 Called (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chaboud ( 231590 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @04:07PM (#21729766) Homepage Journal
    It's not quite like that.

    On modern systems, threads are themselves first-class constructs, and it runs somewhat like this:

    A process has things like memory-tables for virtual memory, handles for objects, files, socket connections, etc. A process always contains at least one thread (this isn't always true while a process is being set up or torn down, but it's true when most anyone's code is running).

    A thread generally has a stack (in the host-process's virtual address space, so everyone can read it), some thread-local storage to make life easier for some api's (you don't need to care about this in most cases), and lives in a process. This means that threads can use virtual addresses for memory interchangeably with other threads in the same process.

    Additionally, some operating systems support fibers. A fiber is like a thread except that it has to be explicitly or cooperatively (not quite the same thing) multi-tasked. Fibers use even less memory than threads, and you really don't have to care about them.

    When you're in, say, Visual Studio, there's a "threads" window for all of the threads of the process that you are debugging. You can end up stepping through code on one thread while other threads are running.

    The modern hardware designs lead to interesting performance side-effects from cache location and memory location. It's not quite as hard as systems that have asymmetric access to resources (e.g. Playstation 2), but it makes for fun work.
  • Re:Diaspora (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @04:08PM (#21729790)
    For many large-scale software projects (I work in industry so I have some experience with this) it is far easier to find more cpu power than more programmers.

    Making code easy to read and maintain is critical to maximizing the efficiency of the programmer. The efficiency of the code is generally a secondary issue, and is only a factor if the code in question is found to be a bottleneck.

    Brian Kernighan once said,

    "Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you're as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it?"
  • Re:HPC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by curunir ( 98273 ) * on Monday December 17, 2007 @04:30PM (#21730228) Homepage Journal
    I think the one thing that makes parallel computing more difficult, and quite a bit more so than recursion, is the fact that it makes your program non-deterministic. With a single-threaded application, it's pretty obvious when you've made your application non-deterministic...you reference the time or some resource external to your application. And those kinds of non-deterministic behaviors are much easier to understand...they're mostly just data. But if your application is running on multiple processors using multiple threads, that's not the case. You can run your application multiple times and see different results depending on which threads execute the fastest. And in the worst-case scenario, you get dead locks that are a nightmare to debug.

    It's often quite difficult to wrap your head around that unpredictability, especially since so much of the beginning computer science education teaches programmers to evaluate each instructions in their programs in source order as the computer is likely to end up doing when the program is run. This is made even worse by the fact that some languages (I know Java, but there may be others too) allow a compiler to re-order instructions to improve performance provided it doesn't alter that thread's behavior. This is fine for a single-threaded application, but can be quite confusing for a multi-threaded application when you can no longer assume source ordering of instructions from other threads.

    It took a while before I got comfortable with essentially asking myself "What am I assuming and do I actually know that at this point or do I just think I know it at this point" with every line of code that I write that might execute in a multi-threaded environment. Even with that, I still run into occasions where it takes over an hour to debug a race condition when that error only happens a small percentage of the time.
  • by savuporo ( 658486 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @04:35PM (#21730302)
    So far, multiple cores have boosted performance mostly because the typical user has multiple applications running at a time. But as the number of cores increases, the beneficial effects diminish dramatically.
    They diminish, but they never disappear. Even in algorithms where you completely have to wait the results of previous computation to go on, you can still get a speedup with branch prediction. In essence, while your one core is cracking the numbers, other cores do the what if work, and even if you mispredict in lots of cases, you can still get speedups with large datasets, because in some cases, when your first core comes up with a result, you will discover that the what if computation started out with a right guess.
    Hey, i hear they are doing essentially the same stuff with all those newfangled multiscalar processors and branch prediction anyway.
  • Re:OS/2? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pthisis ( 27352 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @05:01PM (#21730752) Homepage Journal
    It's a shame that the single-threaded model became so ingrained in everything, including linux. For an example that comes to mind, why do I need to wait for my mail program to download all headers from the IMAP server before I can compose a new message on initial startup?

    I'm of the opposite opinion; it's a shame that so many people equate parallel processing with threads. When there's not much shared data, using multiple processes keeps memory protection between your parallel "things", decreasing coupling, increasing isolation, and generally resulting in a more stable system (and for certain things where you can avoid some cache coherency problems, a faster system). Your example is perfect; there's really no good reason to use a thread for such lookups. Another process would do, or even better just use select() and avoid all the pain (and bugs) of a multithreaded solution.

    OS developers spent a lot of engineering time implementing protected memory. Threads throw out a huge portion of that; a good programmer won't do that without very good reasons. Some tasks, where there really are tons of complicated data structures to be shared, are good candidates for threading. More commonly, though, threads are used either because the programmer doesn't know any better or because they allow you to be a slacker about defining exactly what is shared and mediating access to it. The latter is especially dangerous; defining exactly what (and how) things are shared goes most of the way toward eliminating multiprocessing bugs, and threads make it easy to slack off on that and get a "mostly working" solution that occasionally deadlocks, fails to scale, etc.

    Use processes or state machines when you can, and threads when you must.
  • Re:Thank god (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Richthofen80 ( 412488 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @06:00PM (#21731704) Homepage
    Speaking of C#, MS just released a technology preview that adds extensions / namespaces to C# that make it pretty easy to write parallel-executing code:
    http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=e848dc1d-5be3-4941-8705-024bc7f180ba&displaylang=en [microsoft.com]

    Essentially, they turn
    for (int i = 0; i < 100; i++) {
        a[i] = a[i]*a[i];


    Parallel.For(0, 100, delegate(int i) {
        a[i] = a[i]*a[i];

    and the hint tells the .NET runtime to execute the solution in parallel. No shared memory, no locks, all done for you. That's the way parallelism should work, IMHO

    http://msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag/issues/07/10/Futures/default.aspx [microsoft.com]

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @06:01PM (#21731710) Homepage

    Critical sections are a high level future which must be in a library.

    The problem is that a C++ compiler doesn't know what data is locked, and which data items are locked by which lock, because the language has no way to talk about that subject. OS-level primitives lock everything. The compiler has a hard time telling which data needs concurrency protection. Thus, the compiler can't diagnose race conditions.

    If the language understood locking, one could do more checking at compile time. One could take a hard-nosed approach. Every variable has to be locked by something. Either it's locked by the object of which it is a member (like Java's "Synchronized"), or the thread to which it is local, or by some other object which owns the variable. This last is something for which a language needs descriptive syntax.

    One approach would be syntax where the programmer declares a critical section, and lists everything that can be referenced within the critical section. But that might not be necessary. A system more like the way an SQL database decides transaction locking issues might be easier on the programmer.

    The big memory headache in C and C++ is always "who owns what", something with which the language provides no assistance. That's the cause of dangling pointers and memory leaks, but it's also the cause of much locking trouble.

  • Re:2005 Called (Score:2, Insightful)

    by felix9x ( 562120 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @06:29PM (#21732086) Homepage
    Actually you can sort the same data with multiple threads in parallel. Consider for example you divide an array of items into two halfs and sort each half with a separate thread using quicksort. There is no problem with synchronizing the data since the two threads will be working on separate data. The merge of the two sorted sets you can be done single threaded, which is of linear complexity. You can also get fancy with the merge but it gets more complex.

    As far as sorting stuff like drop-down boxes you will not have enough data to justify using multiple cores on it, unless you got millions of items in it but then you got other problems.

  • Re:2005 Called (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @06:33PM (#21732132)
    There's a wide variance in what "parallel computing" means. For multicore, you've essentially just got a cheaper version of SMP (symmetric multiprocessing). This is worlds away from what occurs in a parallel computer and what most parallel programming algorithms deal with. With multicore and SMP you program mostly like you're doing multithreading on a single CPU.

    The algorithms programmers have to deal with here involve concurrency, and have been in use for decades by anyone writing an OS or device driver. Dining Philosopher problem, readers and writers synchronization, etc. These are used on what most people think of as single processor computers and are essential. So I don't really think of these as "parallel programming", but as "parallel-light".

    Parallel programming to me means dealing with SIMD or MIMD machines. MIMD has multiple processors each with its own memory and data, not multiple processors all sharing the same memory like SMP does. They may have high speed connections to a subset of other processors, such as being arranged in a grid or cube. SIMD has multiple processors all with their own data space but executing the same instruction sequences; the simplest form of which might be vector processors. The algorithms for these machines have very little in common with multithreading types of algorithms.

    The parallel algorithms that require lots of sharing between processors will hit a bottleneck on the RAM with these multicore CPUs.
  • Re:2005 Called (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @07:35PM (#21732768)

    Desktops really don't need all the power they have now, perhaps one percent of users outside of gamers actually use it.

    Doing things with digital video and photoshopping still images will use as muich CPU as you can feed it. These are now mainsteam uses for home computers.

  • Re:Thank god (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anwyn ( 266338 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @08:40PM (#21733310)
    Yet another annoying attempt to force garbage collection on C++!

    Garbage collection is a one size fits all solution, that is not appropriate for all the applications in the C++ problem space. Further there is a lot of C++ code already out there that does its own memory management. It would be difficult to retrofit this code to garbage collection.

    Furthermore, many garbage collected languages lack proper destructors. At best they have a finalize method. This interfears with the C++ idiom "object creation is resource allocation; object destruction is resource release". This is the way C++ manages all resources. There are other resources besides memory; like open files, descriptors, network connections and many others. Because the garbage collected languages lack proper destructors, they actually make the management of these other resources more difficult. This can make garbage collected languages more complex and buggy. What the garbage collected languages give with one hand, they take away with the other!

    I wish someone would develop a language with optional garbage collection and with proper destructors!

  • by Furry Ice ( 136126 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @08:47PM (#21733364)
    I see a lot of comments indicating that all a programmer needs to do to scale to more cores is just multithread your algorithms. If only that were true! Unfortunately, memory access patterns become extremely important for getting good performance, and that requires some pretty sophisticated knowledge about the hardware and proper tuning is almost a black art. Once large numbers of cores are in use, scaling your software optimally is going to be very difficult. Don't delude yourself. Talented programmers are going to be very much in demand, and I suggest starting to learn everything you can about it now. For starters, Ulrich Drepper has written an incredibly detailed and helpful article available at http://people.redhat.com/drepper/cpumemory.pdf [redhat.com] which should really help dispel any notions that this change to computing is going to be easy!
  • Re:2005 Called (Score:3, Insightful)

    by try_anything ( 880404 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @09:52PM (#21733782)
    More and more cores? Consumer desktops and laptops have gone up to a whopping two cores -- four cores only if you blow a wad of dough for bragging rights. Two processors is definitely not overkill for the average user, especially since most users have a browser full of Ajax-ridden web pages open 24/7. I doubt that four cores will be overkill, either, once we start to realize all the various ways we've crippled applications to make them well-behaved citizens of the vanishing single-core desktop.

    The massively multicore processors are exactly where they need to be: in servers and workstations, and on the desks of hardware queens who absorb the cost of product development so I don't have to.

    poorer performance on the vast majority of apps and games which people were running in isolation

    People run the vast majority of their applications concurrently with other applications. The only significant exception is gamers. When you're dealing with a sluggish app on a single-core machine, what are the odds it's unresponsive because of another application vs. being unresponsive because of its own problems? Now, same question, on a dual-core machine? The odds drop quite a bit. It's nice to have a spare core so when one app gets fussy the rest of your applications keep responding normally.

    it doesn't seem like applications or operating systems have seen a major overhaul since that time (just incremental gains)

    All the more reason to have multiple cores. In my experience, having multiple processors actually compensates for application-level and OS-level multiprocessing deficiencies, because let's face it, one hoggish app can make it very annoying to use a single-core machine. OSes are supposed to mitigate that, but since they don't do a perfect job, multiple cores help keep the system usable. Granted, there are other resources besides CPU that can suffer from contention, but every little bit helps.

  • by Zork the Almighty ( 599344 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @10:10PM (#21733876) Journal
    Perhaps I am the only person who thinks this, but is seems to me that threads are not a very good low-level primitive for concurrent programming. They inherently assume that whatever is running on the different processors is independent. As a result, writing a tightly coupled parallel algorithm is "hard".

    I would much rather the operating system switch 4 or 16 synchronized cores completely over to me. Add prefixes to the assembly instructions so that I can explicitly execute instructions on processor 1, 2, 3, etc, in a shared memory model. Add logic similar to simultaneous multithreading to keep unused cores saturated with instructions from other threads when possible. This would help the programmer extract parallelism from tightly coupled algorithms. There seems to be no real multithreaded analogue to assembly language, and I think that is a big part of the problem. If we had such a thing it would be much easier to write tightly coupled parallel code, and higher level parallelization (from compilers) would follow inevitably.

    Of course I'm not saying this is some sort of magic bullet. We would still need to split up computations and use threads as best as possible, but I think this is an obvious tool that we are missing.
  • Re:Oh, wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bladesjester ( 774793 ) <slashdot AT jameshollingshead DOT com> on Monday December 17, 2007 @10:11PM (#21733882) Homepage Journal
    We bash in attempt to convince those smart people to leave MS and work in a more open way.

    In doing so, you prove yourself a fool. It is a childish action that only hurts your cause, and Microsoft (as well as most people with any business or social sense) knows it.

    You see Microsoft as some great evil to be overcome without seeing that a large part of your problem is yourself.

    Companies see people like you bash anything that isn't open source or "free" and they quite rightly think that you haven't really thought things out or lack the business acumen to realize why all of the world can't work that way. (Not to mention the extreme lack of social skills that it shows)

    I like open source, I use it, I occasionally write it, and I've championed the cause in a sane way.

    What you are missing is that Microsoft is giving a lot of people and companies what they want - software that is relatively easy to use and which everyone else is already using ("best" doesn't matter most of the time, which a lot of you have problems understanding).

    At the same time, they treat their employees well, paying them well with good benefits (from what I've heard from people I know who work there), and maintain well-respected research labs.

    You do not draw good people from a good environment by telling them it's not a good environment because they don't make everything open source. You draw good people by being a better environment in terms of pay, benefits, culture, work-life balance etc *and* appealing to their sensibilities.

    If you can't do that, and instead simply bash anyone for associating with "the enemy", you are doomed to fail because, at best, people will work on it as a hobby. The lion's share of good open source software is done by people being paid to do it. Bashing the company of people you want to work for you does not help.

    Not all of the world cares about open source, and many of us who do are not fanatical about it and realize that, while it is good for some things, is absolutely horrible for other things from a business standpoint. We like working on things that we see as important, but we also like being able to pay our bills and having a life outside of work.
  • by Rodyland ( 947093 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @11:33PM (#21734388)
    This makes multi-core programming almost a no-brainer.

    While you did say 'almost', I'm still going to take exception with that statement.

    That is a very dangerous thing to say without reams of qualifications.

    Programming (of any non-trivial nature) is not currently, nor is it likely to be any time soon, a 'no-brainer'. No library, no framework, no toolset, no abstraction takes away from the core fact that programming is hard. Sure, you can take away the boring/trivial stuff and give the programmers more time to work on the hard/interesting stuff, but that doesn't make it a 'no-brainer'.

    Abstracting away mapReduce just means you don't have to know how to write your own mapReduce implementation. It doesn't automatically make the user of Qt (or whatever) an expert in designing parallel algorithms, nor parallel debugging, nor the performance benefits and tradeoffs and gotchas of parallel programming.

  • by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @02:52AM (#21735878)
    "Multi-CPU systems started becoming common in the mid 1990s so developers being a decade behind the times is a little embarrassing and there are many situations where the task is not completly serial."

    So after a decade of poor adoption on the part of software developers, the chip makers have ignored the fact that the wisdom of the (programming) mob indicates that multi-processing is not an attractive solution. Chip makers have known for more than two decades that they were going to run into physical limits eventually using the current technology, but opted for milking the 1970's model as long as possible rather than developing new technologies that might lead to much better single-core performance.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger