Multicore chips call for OS redesign: Windows architect

A senior architect for Microsoft Windows has said that operating systems may need to be fundamentally redesigned to take advantage of the multicore processors that are standard in today’s IT equipment.

Dave Probert, an architect on the Windows kernel (the core of the OS which co-ordinates the hardware components), told a conference yesterday he believes the poor performance of contemporary systems despite the abundance of processing power indicates a need for a fundamental rethink.

"Why should you ever, with all this parallel hardware, ever be waiting for your computer?,” he said.

Probert explained that today’s operating systems use multicore processors by dividing tasks into processes, which are then allocated to the different processing cores. However, the kernel does not know which tasks to prioritise, so users are forced to wait while less important processes take place before the applications they need get going.

Instead, Probert argued, the kernel of the operating system should operate more like a hypervisor, which in virtualised environments sits between the operating system and the hardware and which allocates resources according to demand and priority.

The conventional thinking is that it falls to software developers to take advantage of multicore processors by building applications that employ ‘parallel processing’. In 2007, Intel scientist Shekhar Borkar said that responsibility to maintain Moore’s Law – the principle that says chips double in performance every 18 months – now falls to software makers. "Software has to double the amount of parallelism that it can support every two years,” he said.

But that has proved difficult. Probert’s comments suggest that developments at an OS level could unlock performance enhancements. However, he also said that his comments do not necessarily represent the view of his employer.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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