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Intel Makes A Big Jump In Computer Math

Long the ugly stepchild of computer arithmetic, division is getting a much needed makeover

3 min read

What does the mortgage ­crisis have to do with microprocessor ­architecture? It turns out that ­calculating prices for those ­financially dubious ­mortgage-backed securities is a division-­intensive process, and ­division has long been the weak link in a micro­processor’s ­arithmetic ­operations. With Intel’s new crop of 45â''­nanometer ­processors, code-named Penryn, the company is making the first substantial upgrade in its ­processors’ divider since the ­original Pentium came out in 1993. The speedup doubles the number of bits ­calculated with each tick of the ­processor’s clock and will make a substantial ­difference to financial and scientific computing. And because Intel powers so much of the computer ­market, the ­development could tempt programmers to retreat from the less ­accurate but faster software tricks they’ve used as a ­substitute for division.

”Divide had become the long pole in the tent,” says Steve Fischer, the lead architect for Penryn. ”We tried at least to chop the pole in half. It’s still long compared to some functions. But it’s a lot better.”

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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