Multicore: New chips mean new challenges for developers

More and more help is available so developers can write apps for the new-generation chips

Intel's multicore app-dev aids

"Absolutely, [multicore software development is] a challenge. It's a pretty big challenge," says James Reinders, director of marketing for Intel's Developer Products Division. Concurrency is a major issue in development, he stresses. "When you write a parallel program, it's easy to make a program nondeterministic, meaning where different outcomes, or logic paths, are possible," Reinders says. Multicore app dev requires a much more complicated thought process about software design than most developers understand, he says. "By and large, the majority of programmers don't have experience with it and are in need of tools and training and so forth to help take advantage of it."

Intel is stepping in to assist developers who may not be able to deal with the paradigm shift on their own. The company offers its Threading Building Blocks template library to help C++ programmers with parallel programming. The Intel Thread Checker helps find nondeterministic programming errors, and the Intel Thread Profiler helps visualize a program to check what each core is doing. Also, Intel has a code library project called Ct, for C for Throughput, that looks at providing building blocks for common data parallelism cases.

Synchronization is important for parallel programming to avoid race conditions, Reinders notes. With a race condition, concurrent conditions aren't properly synchronized, so the order in which they complete affects the outcome. Program deadlocks also can occur: Instructions that execute in parallel each waits for the other to complete, so neither ends up completing.

Microsoft's multicore app-dev aids

Microsoft also is working on parallel computing efforts. "We'll be integrating parallelism into our mainstream [app development] product," Hill says. For example, its Concurrency Runtime provides a common scheduling layer that will give applications to finer control over the resources allocated to them. The technology will be part of the planned Visual Studio 2010 platform and is included in the platform's Community Technology Preview prerelease edition.

Also on tap are extensions to languages, both in native and managed code, for parallelism. Microsoft will look at libraries and services for developers, plus it has developed PLinq, which adds parallelism to its Linq language-integrated query technology. Additionally, the company offers its parallel language extensions, which use the Concurrency Runtime.

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