Optimally, the speed-up from parallelization would be linear—doubling the number of processing elements should halve the runtime, and doubling it a second time should again halve the runtime. However, very few parallel algorithms achieve optimal speed-up. Most of them have a near-linear speed-up for small numbers of processing elements, which flattens out into a constant value for large numbers of processing elements.
The potential speed-up of an algorithm on a parallel computing platform is given by Amdahl's law, originally formulated by Gene Amdahl in the 1960s. It states that a small portion of the program which cannot be parallelized will limit the overall speed-up available from parallelization. Any large mathematical or engineering problem will typically consist of several parallelizable parts and several non-parallelizable (sequential) parts. This relationship is given by the equation S = 1/(1-P)
where S is the speed-up of the program (as a factor of its original sequential runtime), and P is the fraction that is parallelizable. If the sequential portion of a program is 10% of the runtime, we can get no more than a 10× speed-up, regardless of how many processors are added. This puts an upper limit on the usefulness of adding more parallel execution units. "When a task cannot be partitioned because of sequential constraints, the application of more effort has no effect on the schedule. The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned."