Big Week: Dual Core Processors Ship

Intel's first dual-core processor will be available April 18 from PC vendors such as Dell, Alienware, and a few others, an Intel spokeswoman said.

The Pentium Extreme Edition 840 will become the first chip available from Intel that features two separate processing cores integrated on a single chip. PC processor companies are adopting multicore designs to improve performance, as the time-honored method of improving clock speed and cache size appears to have run its course. (The results of PC World's preliminary tests of this chip may be found here.)

Dual-core chips can outperform single-core chips at slower clock speeds, which reduces power consumption and heat dissipation. The performance advantage is especially clear on PCs or servers that are running multiple processor-intensive applications.

Intel has already shared many details about this particular chip, as the company races Advanced Micro Devices to be the "first" dual-core vendor. Server chip makers like IBM and Sun Microsystems have been shipping dual-core chips for years, but the design concept is just now making its way down into PCs and low-end servers.

Historic Days

AMD will launch a dual-core version of its Opteron server processor at an event in New York on April 21. Both Intel and AMD appear to have moved up their launch schedules in an attempt to beat each other to the punch.

AMD's official road map, posted on its Web site, still says that dual-core Opteron processors will launch in the second half of the year. However, company Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Hector Ruiz said during AMD's first-quarter financial results call on Wednesday that the processors will launch next week. Last October, Intel said it didn't expect to launch dual-core desktop chips until after its annual introduction of new chipset technology, which usually takes place at the end of the second quarter.

But an Intel spokeswoman claimed the dual-core announcement had always been scheduled to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Moore's Law on April 19. Thursday is also a special day in AMD history as the two-year anniversary of Opteron's debut.

EE Specs

Each core in the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 will run at 3.2 GHz, several steps slower than the 3.73-GHz clock speed on the current single-core versions of the Pentium Extreme Edition chips. The chip will feature 1 MB of Level 2 cache for each core and will likely cost at least $999, the price usually given to Intel's highest-performing Extreme Edition chip. The new 955X Express chipset will also accompany the launch of the Extreme Edition 840 processor.

Because of their high cost, Extreme Edition processors are dedicated to a small sector of the market, mainly gamers and PC enthusiasts. In May, Intel plans to launch the dual-core Pentium D for mainstream PC users alongside the 945G Express and 945P Express chipsets.

The two companies are taking different approaches to their dual-core launch. Intel believes by getting into the PC market first with dual-core chips, it can build upon its formidable manufacturing resources to extend its lead in the PC market, the Intel spokeswoman said. AMD will preview its dual-core Athlon 64 processors Thursday, and is expected to launch those chips around the middle of this year.

AMD, however, thinks that servers are a more appropriate target for the extra performance provided by dual-core processors, Ruiz said Wednesday. Intel will not have a dual-core Xeon processor available until 2006 based on its current schedule, and AMD thinks it can make inroads into the server market with its dual-core advantage.

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