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openSUSE makes baseline CPU requirements a little friendlier than feared

Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

> What is the point of these new "features"?

The cynical answer:

Moore's Law didn't predict CPU speeds would increase: in fact it predicted that the number of transistors per unit cost would increase.

CPU designers are looking for ways to use those additional transistors. They have been for decades.

In the 1980s this meant microprocessors handled wider and wider words: 8 bit, then mass-market 16-bit, and relatively early expensive 32-bit.

In the 1990s, this meant mass-market 32-bit, then early expensive 64-bit (DEC Alpha, etc.) In the mainstream, CPUs gained onboard L1 cache, then onboard L2 cache, and went scalar (instruction pipelining) and then superscalar (multiple instruction pipelines).

But also, the Pentium MMX was the first CPU generation to add new instructions to i386 with MMX -- although most software didn't use MMX, and in fact, it was doubling the onboard L1 cache which made the Pentium MMX 15-20% quicker in general execution speed.

[Aside: I found and reported upon the first Pentium MMX in a mainstream PC in the UK: an engineering sample CPU submitted without notice by Evesham Micros to PC Pro magazine.]

In the 2000-2010, this meant going multiple dies in 1 package, then multiple cores on 1 die, and hyperthreading (multiple threads on each core), and about the time that multicore CPUs started to appear, x86 went 64-bit.

Now server chips can have more than a dozen CPU cores, each able to run 2+ CPU threads. However, Amdahl's Law means that this doesn't deliver real-world performance improvement on the desktop.

So, instead, desktop CPUs are not getting more cores. They are getting better and better hardware accelerated media encode and decode, hardware accelerated encryption and decryption and so on.

We all view web pages over HTTPS now and increasingly we view video and stream audio over those encrypted connections.

Thus, increasing amounts of dedicated hardware to accelerate certain, sometimes very specific, types of operation.

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