Intel to release dual cores this month

News comes on heels of reports that AMD will debut dual-core Opteron for servers and workstations on April 21.

Intel plans to release dual-core desktop chips for computers later this month in a move that seems calculated to prevent rival Advanced Micro Devices from claiming a first.

At the Intel Developer Forum in Taipei, Taiwan, Abhi Talwalkar, co-general manager of the company's enterprise group, said that Intel is shipping dual-core "Extreme Edition" chips and accompanying chipsets to PC makers and that systems containing these chips would come out "imminently."

A source at Intel narrowed that down further, stating computers containing the chips would hit in April. A Dell spokesman stated that the Round Rock, Texas-based PC maker would start shipping a high-end consumer desktop and a workstation with the dual-core chips "in the coming weeks."

The news comes on the heels of reports that AMD will release its dual-core Opteron for servers and workstations on April 21.

Pride, more than money or market share, is on the line in the race to deliver a dual-core chip for the so-called x86 market. Both companies have only recently begun production on dual-core chips, so volumes are low. Demand for dual-core chips is likely highest in the server and workstation markets; however, these customers usually rigorously test new chips for weeks or months before buying them, so sales won't take off rapidly with the release of the chips.

Consumers don't go through this sort of testing process. Nonetheless, many games and other consumer applications haven't been rewritten yet, so they can run on two cores at once, one of the key benefits of having a dual-core chip.

The situation harks back to the race toward a 1GHz processor in 2000. Both companies were slated to come out with a 1GHz in the middle of that year. News leaked out that Intel would release it in March. The day the news broke, AMD rewrote its product release calendar to come out with its 1GHz chip on March 6. Both made their March deadlines , but volumes of chips from the two companies were low for months.

The Extreme Edition dual-core Pentium 4, formerly code-named Smithfield, will run at 3.2GHz, slower than existing Pentium 4s, and will have an 800MHz system bus. Each core will also have 1MB of cache, less than the 2MB of cache the computing core on a single-core chip has. Still, the overall performance will be better than existing chips, Intel says, and will allow PC users to run two applications at once fluidly.

The chip will also contain HyperThreading, which allows the processing cores to take on more simultaneous tasks. A scaled-down version of Smithfield without HyperThreading will arrive later in the quarter.

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