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Dual cores to lead Intel show

But which chips will the company unveil at its developer forum? The answer will give a clue to how Intel will escape 2004.

Intel will demonstrate a dual-core processor at the Intel Developer Forum next week and provide details on other technology initiatives intended to help the company claw its way out of a very difficult year.

Dual-core chips will likely be one of the highlights of the three-day conference, which takes place from Sept. 7 through 9 in San Francisco. Rival Advanced Micro Devices earlier this week demonstrated a dual-core version of its Opteron chip. Both companies are slated to start popping out dual-core chip in the middle of 2005. Dual-core chips' two processing cores increase performance without significantly increasing power consumption.

Intel will show off at least one dual-core chip at the conference, according to Frank Spindler, vice president of the corporate technology group at Intel. Other sources said Intel will also provide code names for its dual-core Xeon and Pentium chips, which roll out in the second half of 2005. The dual-core demonstration is slated for Wednesday, but may get moved to the Tuesday morning keynote speech by Paul Otellini, Intel's president and CEO-to-be.

Which chip gets demonstrated is a big issue. If Intel shows off a dual-core version of its Xeon or Pentium chips, which compete directly against the Opteron family, analysts will likely surmise that the two companies are currently tied in the development process. If Intel only shows a dual-core Itanium chip, however, it may be seen as a sign that Intel has fallen behind slightly. Itanium chips sell in lower volumes, and a dual-core Itanium project has been in the works longer.

"It would hardly be a surprise if they were to demonstrate the dual-core Itanium, because they have displayed wafers before," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64. "If they demonstrated dual-core Xeons, it would suggest they are further along than previously suspected."

The company will also likely use the conference to reiterate that it has begun to tackle many of the execution issues that have caused numerous product delays. Some progress has already been made, according to some.

"There has been a pretty fundamental change in how they do things," said Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research. "They are going back to the situation where there is a very high probability of something being delivered when they say it will."

Other conference highlights are likely to include:

• Servers: Intel has said it will release an Itanium 2 chip with a 9MB cache around this time of the year. If the chip doesn't come out at the show, that could be a sign of further delays. In any event, Itanium sales have continued to build on the growth experienced in 2003, McCarron said. Prices have also dropped. The company now sells a low-end Itanium 2 for $530, less than some desktop chips.

• Desktops: Louis Burns and Bill Siu, who jointly manage the desktop platforms group, will unveil an effort to develop standards for what the company calls the Digital Office. PC manufacturers at the show or Intel will also likely provide updates on the progress of the ePC and other living room technologies.

Otellini and others will also give updates on some of the technologies, such as LaGrande, Vanderpool and Silvervale, that will increase security and performance of PC processors. Some of these require Microsoft's Windows update, Longhorn or other unreleased operating systems. Longhorn isn't due until 2006.

Information on Shelton, a prototype chip to be marketed in developing nations, may also come out at the conference. At last year's conference, Otellini revealed Intel was looking into development of chips for these markets.

• Communications: Progress on the advanced wireless standard WiMax will be discussed, as will work on the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA) initiative to get networking manufacturers to adopt common architectural standards. After a slow start, several companies have begun to adopt ATCA, Spindler said.

• Consumer electronics: Announcements on a wireless version of USB as well as serial ATA standards for hard drives in consumer electronics are expected.