What Does the (Near) Future of Processing Power Look Like?

The central processing unit (CPU) is to every electronic device as a motor is to a vehicle. The amount of instructions that CPUs can carry and execute is increasing at an alarming rate, broadening the market for both consumer and enterprise technology considerably. Concepts like Moore’s law have laid the groundwork for a technological playing field that constantly keeps getting more interesting. Everything from their architecture to the amount of transistors they carry affects their performance. Everyone who follows the latest news about tech hardware seems to be interested in what the future may look like in both the desktop and mobile world. It’s time we discuss it.

cpufuture-sixcore

When Intel’s Core2Quad CPU came out, a lot of people just didn’t consider it worth the investment. Why put money into something that runs your programs just slightly faster, when your dual-core can still hold on for another three to four years? Several years later, people still feel the same way about quad-core CPUs. The only difference is that they’re so much cheaper now, that the incentive to buy one isn’t as easy to resist. So, at this moment, it’s very common for someone to buy or build new computers with four cores, or at least two cores and four threads.

Now, we’re seeing the same thing happen with six-core systems. Intel’s first six-core CPU had a strong positive reception, but it wasn’t exactly their best-selling chip. They didn’t even expect it to sell so well from the start. It was out there for only the most hard-core hardware fiends anyway. But now, it seems like mainstream desktop manufacturers are starting to create six-core systems in larger numbers. Before long, six-core may be the new norm, and 8-core systems will be another frontier to tackle. In fact, have a look at the latest Mac Pro. It has a 12-core chip and specs that will blow away some of the most sophisticated home-built systems.

cpufuture-64bitphone

With all the hype floating around about 64-bit mobile CPUs, I really don’t think we should get too excited. Perhaps one of the things that does excite me about 64-bit CPUs is the extra addressing space allowed in RAM, which lets you use more than 4 GB. Currently, most phones have 1 or 2 GB of RAM, so it’s really no use. Other than that, I honestly see nothing very advantageous in 64-bit phone CPUs, the principal reason being that it’s very likely that app developers may hesitate to port all of their apps to 64-bit architectures and release two versions of the same app while keeping them both up to date. It’s just not realistic for most people. Most of them will stick to 32-bit app development and just call it a day. So much for spending another $500 on a new phone with a CPU you’re barely ever going to harness the power of.

Smart watches currently compose a very young part of the mobile device market. While they do not offer as much functionality as a smartphone or tablet, they still provide a comfortable level of assistance to the user. The current standard on smart watches is an anemic single-core CPU. Lately, new smart watches such as the “Tigon” are coming out on the market with an extra core to help them handle the inevitable rise in complexity that their apps will have. I don’t think that smart watch CPUs will evolve as quickly as that of smartphones, though. This has a lot to with trying to contend with the limited size of batteries.

One thing is certain, though: Smart watches are going to create a demand for high-performance CPUs that consume extremely small amounts of power. This might lead to innovations that will affect other devices we use.

If you think you have some insight into the future of CPU technology in any of the fields discussed (or even those I haven’t covered), please leave a comment below!