Apr 152009
Authors: Glen Pfeiffer, Ryan Gibbons

On Monday, Dan Reed, one of the top computing strategists in the country from Microsoft, gave a guest lecture in the Lory Student Center about the future of computing technology.

Despite the fact that much of the audience was either twice our age or a computer science major who barely made it out of their cave to join us, the lecture was far more relevant to our futures than any of your — our loyal reader — average 10 a.m. classes./

Possibly what struck us the most about the topics of discussion in general was the massive scale of the changes that Microsoft and the computer industry are anticipating. Reed addressed topics as broad as (brace yourself for geek jargon) parallel processing, multi-cores, power optimization for data centers, Atom processors used en masse and infrastructure in general (for those now rejoining us, welcome back; for the rest, yes the lecture was just like camping — intense)./

We will more than likely be covering many of the topics that Reed covered in our column over the next few weeks, as it was such a great insight into where our future lies. / For those of you who don’t know what is meant by a multi-core processor, here’s a quick rundown.

Every decision, or thought, your computer makes is more or less controlled by your central processing unit, or CPU. It’s your computers brain on a one-inch chip. Over the past few decades we’ve tried to make the brains faster and faster, but we soon realized that no matter how fast we got, two brains are better than one.

Around 2001, companies like Intel, AMD and IBM all started producing multi-core processors, starting with the dual core and making their way to the quad core currently used in today’s high-end workstations.

Over the years, programs have harnessed the power of these blazing fast chips and really increased the amount of features that we can utilize. Reed pointed out two important points, however.

First, we can now see a possible maximum processor speed looming in the not so distant future, and second, our programs are no longer calling for faster and faster processor speeds. Sure, those of you working on protein-folding algorithms on your netbook could probably use a speed boost, but as Reed put it, “If we got MS Word to run 100 times faster, no one would ever really notice the difference.”/

So what does that mean for the future of our computer processors? No one really knows. Reed said that it will all come down to the next big program, the one that really drives the demand for Intel and AMD to spend the billions of dollars it will need to shell out to produce a faster, next generation unit./

For that program to really come to fruition we need people writing code for multi-core chipsets — a skill set that is currently very scarce. So now Microsoft and Intel are putting quite a lot of money into educating our generation in the art of multi-core coding in order to meet the future market’s demand./

This week’s column only touched on about 10 minutes of Reed’s lecture, and there is very much more geek fodder for you to tune in for the rest of this year. Just to whet your appetite, topics will include Microsoft’s “cloud” operating system dubbed Windows Azure and data centers of the future.

Columnists Glen Pfeiffer and Ryan Gibbons heard the Dodo’s are bringing vacuum tubes back with them. If you spot one, immediately e-mail verve@collegian.com.

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