The economics of CPU performance

January 17, 2006

Recently, Intel and AMD have been telling everyone who would listen that single CPU performance is more or less all tapped out, and that future improvements would come from various multi-* developments; multi-core, multi-processor, and so on. Ominous pronouncements have emerged about how programmers need to bite the bullet and move to (highly) concurrent programming if they want their gravy train to continue.

When reading this sort of news coverage, it's worthwhile to remember what sells CPUs and software. Namely: CPUs sell on better performance, but software sells on better features.

If Intel and AMD are unable to deliver better performance than current systems, their gravy train derails in a big way. But flat CPU performance still leaves programmers with years of features that they can add and sell. (Some new features need better performance to be feasible, but there are lots that don't.)

I think Intel and AMD talk like this partly because they would love to persuade programmers that they have no choice but to spend a lot of money to help Intel and AMD sell CPUs. This strikes me as a bad deal for the programmers, though.

(It also reminds me of Intel's story with the Itanium.)

Written on 17 January 2006.
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Last modified: Tue Jan 17 02:00:22 2006
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