Dual-core desktops hit the market

Dell, Alienware and Velocity Micro begin offering PCs with Intel's dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 chip. Photo: Say hello to dual cores

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
4 min read
PC makers rolled out their first dual-core processor desktop PCs on Monday as expected--and they aren't cheap.

Alienware, Dell and lesser-known maker Velocity Micro are among the first to begin taking orders on dual-core desktops. Their machines are based on Intel's Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 processor, the first dual-core PC processor to hit the market. The chip contains twin 3.2GHz processor cores; its companion Intel 955X Express chipset fosters faster memory and other improvements.

Dell dual core PC

The desktops, which start at about $2,300 to $3,000, are aimed at home multimedia and gaming enthusiasts who want the latest technology, as well as professionals in areas such as video editing. The chips represent Intel's latest thinking on advancing PC processors. Instead of driving rapid increases in speed, the chipmaker is now focusing on adding performance by stuffing additional processor cores into each of its chips, as well as building in new features such as virtualization, which helps carve a PC into different partitions to simultaneously tackle different jobs.

For now, dual-core chips will sit at the top of the PC pyramid, where hot-rod desktops, which cost thousands of dollars, are used for gaming, multimedia or professional applications. The dual-core machines represent a rather large jump over the sub-$1,000 desktops most consumers purchase. However, less expensive desktops will be fitted with dual-core chips over time.

While it shipped the Extreme Edition chip this month, Intel isn't the only chipmaker with dual-core plans. Rival Advanced Micro Devices is expected to unfurl its first dual-core processor, an Opteron chip for servers, later this week. Thus AMD, which will make the announcement ahead of schedule, can claim a first in offering a dual-core x86 server chip. (The term x86 refers to the architectural underpinnings of Intel and AMD PC processors.) The new dual-core Opteron is expected to spawn multiple new servers.

AMD is also expected to reveal plans to put dual-core Athlon chips for PCs on sale in June.

Multitasking made easier
Dell will tout its fifth-generation Dimension XPS with the dual-core chip as an entertainment hub for the home or small office, as well as a gaming system. The chip will also make it easier for consumers to multitask, running a virus scan in the background, for example, while performing another task or playing a game, said Darrel Ward, worldwide marketing manager for Dell's Precision Workstation.

"Dual-core technology is really going to enable new levels of performance for an entry workstation by allowing...engineers and professional designers to do either work more quickly," he said.

Dell has installed the Extreme Edition 840 in its fifth-generation Dimension XPS desktop, which went on sale on Monday morning. The desktop will start around $2,900, sans monitor and speakers, with 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 graphics card and a DVD-ROM drive. Customers are likely to spend more to get the machine configured the way they want. A model with 2GB of PC-5300 RAM, dual 160GB hard drives and a dual-drive DVD burner and DVD-ROM setup will cost about $3,600, for example, according to Dell's Web site.

Dell is also offering the 840 chip in its Precision 380 workstation, which starts at about $2,300.

Velocity Micro is offering the Extreme Edition chip in its ProMagix DCX desktop. The machine configured with the dual-core chip, 1GB of PC-5300 RAM, a 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 graphics card, a 200GB hard drive and a DVD burner, starts at about $2,700, according to the company's Web site.

Alienware is also offering the chip in systems including its Alienware Area-51 5500, Area-51 ALX and MJ-12 5500. The Area-51 AXL desktop will cost about $4,500 and include the dual-core 840 chip; 1GB of PC-5300 RAM; a 74GB, 10,000 rpm hard drive; Nvidia's 256MB GeForce 6800 graphics card; Creative's Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS audio card; and a DVD burner.

Other companies, such as Hewlett-Packard, are expected to deliver dual-core desktops later this year.

Pentium D processor is next
Intel's next step will be to offer the dual-core Intel Pentium D processor, which it says will populate more mainstream desktops, in May. Thus, the Pentium D should be available in a broader range of systems, which are also priced lower than the Extreme Edition desktops.

Intel is scheduled to follow up by launching dual-core processors for servers and notebooks in early 2006, although it may trickle them out earlier by, for example, seeding dual-core server chips in the second half of this year.

The chipmaker, which says it has more than 15 multicore projects under way for desktops, notebooks and servers, says it will ship millions of dual-core chips by the end of the year and estimates that by the close of 2006, 70 percent of its server chips and 85 percent of its desktop and notebook chips will be dual core.

For its part, Intel will sell the Extreme Edition 840 chip for $999 in 1,000-unit quantities. Its companion Intel 955X Express chipset costs $50. Street prices on the components are likely to vary, however.

Intel is also selling a desktop motherboard that includes the Express chipset, which will allow smaller system builders to offer desktops with the Extreme Edition 840.