Multiprocessing is the use of two or more central processing units (CPUs) within a single computer system. The term also refers to the ability of a system to support more than one processor and/or the ability to allocate tasks between them. There are many variations on this basic theme, and the definition of multiprocessing can vary with context, mostly as a function of how CPUs are defined (multiple cores on one die, multiple dies in one package, multiple packages in one system unit, etc.).
Multiprocessing sometimes refers to the execution of multiple concurrent software processes in a system as opposed to a single process at any one instant. However, the terms multitasking or multiprogramming are more appropriate to describe this concept, which is implemented mostly in software, whereas multiprocessing is more appropriate to describe the use of multiple hardware CPUs. A system can be both multiprocessing and multiprogramming, only one of the two, or neither of the two.
In a multiprocessing system, all CPUs may be equal, or some may be reserved for special purposes. A combination of hardware and operating-system software design considerations determine the symmetry (or lack thereof) in a given system. For example, hardware or software considerations may require that only one CPU respond to all hardware interrupts, whereas all other work in the system may be distributed equally among CPUs; or execution of kernel-mode code may be restricted to only one processor (either a specific processor, or only one processor at a time), whereas user-mode code may be executed in any combination of processors. Multiprocessing systems are often easier to design if such restrictions are imposed, but they tend to be less efficient than systems in which all CPUs are utilized.
Systems that treat all CPUs equally are called symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) systems. In systems where all CPUs are not equal, system resources may be divided in a number of ways, including asymmetric multiprocessing (ASMP), non-uniform memory access (NUMA) multiprocessing, and clustered multiprocessing (qq.v.).
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