I just discovered a nifty little tool called pigz. Its basically a drop in replacement for gzip that allows you to compress / uncompress things using multiple cores. From what I can tell on my 6 core amd, its using 4 cores... This greatly speeds up the compression and decompression process. As I type this, I'm compressing a folder with 136,000 files inside consisting of a total of 80GB!
I'm not 100% sure this is the correct way to use it, but here's what I did.
First, install it.
sudo apt-get install pigz
Then I simply replace my gzip file with a symbolic link to pigz and use tar like normal.
sudo mv /bin/gzip /bin/gzip.old
and make the symbolic link.
sudo ln -s /usr/bin/pigz /bin/gzip
Then you simply use tar and gzip like you normally would. You should notice much faster compression times of multiple files!
Typical tar usage is like this:
tar -zcvf prog-1-jan-2005.tar.gz /home/marty/prog