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Application support for multiple CPU cores

2009-06-01 updated 2010-08-08 • SEND FEEDBACK
Related: CPU cores, Lightroom, Mac Pro

This pages assigns grades to applications based on how well they make use of multiple CPU cores on Mac OS X 10.6.4. See How To Choose A Mac for more on considerations in this area.

Why multi-core matters

In 2010, utilizing multiple cores is the only way to make substantial performance gains; we simply will not be seeing CPUs with significantly faster clock rates (eg 4GHz instead of 3GHz).

See the previous page, CPU cores explained for more on CPU cores.

All 2010 Macs have 2, 4, 6, 8, or 12 CPU cores (double that for hyperthreading eg “virtual cores”). Mac laptops in 2010 are still limited to 2 cores.

If you have an application to add to this list, feel free to contact us once you have solid data about an application. Please include the application name, vendor and vendor URL, and task(s) that you use it for.

RAW-file converters and image processing

RAW-file converters and image processing software have ample opportunities for making use of multiple cores.

See Grading System below.

RAW-file converters and image processing
Application Grade Comments
Adobe Photoshop CS4, CS5 B/C/F Few or no operations use all cores fully. There is significant use of multiple cores, but average use is little better than 1.5 cores. Very frequently-used operations like Open and Save are single-threaded. CS5 is no better than CS4.
Adobe Lightroom 3 B- Lightroom 3 can’t use a 4-core machine fully, but it “peaks” enough to use 6 cores briefly. See the Lightroom article.
Apple Aperture 2.1.1 C+ SImilar to LIghtroom, but not quite as good.
Bibble Pro A No direct experience, but one user reports “I recently upgraded to an 8-core machine and Bibble 5 fully saturates all cores during export/conversion, while the UI remains responsive
Canon Digital Photo Profession 3.5.1 C+ Multiple batch workers can work around this for batch processing.
Nikon Capture NX 2.1.2 C-
No workaround for batch processing, ues no more than about 1.8 cores on most everything, averaging a lot less. On interactive tasks, barely rates a D+. The presence of a bug in Capture NX 2.1.2, which results in use of only one core and multiple-minute previews can’t be graded—it doesn’t work.
Sony Image Data Converter SR A+ Uses all four cores at 100% on a quad-core Mac Pro.
Leaf Capture 11.2 A+ Uses all 4 cores of a Mac Pro at 100%.
PhaseONE Capture One Pro A Uses about 600% (max 800%) on an 8-core Mac Pro. View.
RAW Developer B Multithreaded per-image, but processes only one image at a time in batch mode.
Genuine Fractals 6.0 A+ Highly CPU-intensive, makes use of all 8 cores on a Mac Pro with near perfect scalability.
DXO Optics Pro 5.3.1 A+ Highly CPU-intensive, makes use of all cores on a quad-core Mac Pro.
Helicon Focus A Does a good job keeping all 8 cores of a Mac Pro busy. See Feb 5, 2008 blog.
PhotoZoom Pro 3 A+ Uses all 16 virtual cores of a Mac Pro Nehalem.
SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 A+ Uses 400% of a quad-core machine while saving, and up to 200% in interactive mode.

Code development

Application Grade Comments
XCode 3.1.2 A+ Builds scale linearly with the number of cores View.
Maven 2 F Single-threaded.
javac D Some trivial threading; feeding it 500 files to compile results in essentially no parallelism on multi-core machines.

Other programs

Application Grade Comments
DreamWeaver CS4 F Single threaded. Very slow rendering of page from its 1990’s rendering engine.
Apple Mail N/A Multi-threaded, it has no CPU intensive operations and so even a single core Mac is fine.
Apple Safari N/A Multi-threaded,but it has few CPU intensive operations and so even a single core Mac is fine; performance is largely a function of network speed.
Mac OS X Finder C Copying is well done, and various other things are threaded, but utilizing even ultra-fast RAID at maximum speed, but operations like compressing are single-threaded.

Grading system

A single core used fully is 100% CPU usage, two cores is 200% CPU usage, etc.


Indicates that the application makes near 100% use of all available CPU cores with most or all operations, especially interactive ones.
Indicates that the application makes 80% or better use of all available CPU cores with occasional task-specific drops.
Indicates that CPU cores are used to a significant extent and for more than just brief spikes. On dual-core systems usage is 150% or better on average.
Indicates that limited use of multiple cores is made, perhaps with brief spikes in usage of more than one core, but average usage staying in the 100% - 150% range and some important operations running single threaded.
Indicates that there is trivial use of more than one CPU core, but that this use makes little or no difference to the user experience.
Indicates that the program makes no significant use of multiple CPU cores; it’s completely single-thread and never uses more than a single core (except perhaps indirectly via the operating system).

More applications will be added over time.


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