AMD's dual-core Opteron due this month

Chips that combine dual processing engines on a single slice of silicon will arrive months early, CNET News.com has learned.

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Stephen Shankland
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Advanced Micro Devices is expected to launch new Opteron chips later this month that combine dual processing engines on a single slice of silicon, CNET News.com has learned.

AMD will announce at an event on April 21 in New York that the first dual-core Opteron processors are available, months ahead of schedule, sources familiar with the situation said. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chipmaker also is expected to announce its dual-core chips for personal computers will go on sale in June.

In an attempt to encourage rapid adoption, AMD will sell some of the new chips at the same prices as the corresponding single-core models they'll replace, a source familiar with the products said. The company is expected to first release its high-end and more expensive 800 series Opterons, which are geared for servers with four or eight chips, with lower-end 200 series models coming in May.

The Opteron availability date is ahead of the company's summer launch schedule, but AMD Chief Executive Hector Ruiz hinted that manufacturing was going well, saying in February, "Sometimes things happen and you might do better."

AMD didn't immediately respond to requests for comment late Thursday.

AMD has historically followed Intel in the market for x86 processors such as Pentium. But with Opteron, AMD has led its larger rival in some important ways. Opteron was the first to bring 64-bit extensions that make it easy for x86 chips to accommodate more than 4GB of memory, a feature that only arrived in all Intel's rival Xeon processor models in March.

The chipmaker is trying to press its advantage with dual-core technology, which increases a chip's processing power considerably as long as software has been optimized to take advantage of the feature. Intel's dual-core chips for high-end and low-end servers are scheduled to arrive in early 2006, though its first dual-core desktop chips are slated to ship by the end of June.

Taking on Intel is tough, though. Despite Opteron's head start of more than a year, sales of Intel servers with 64-bit Xeon processors quickly surpassed those of Opteron machines in 2004, according to Gartner. And Intel persuaded a major partner, Dell, from slipping into the AMD camp.

AMD may have lost Dell, but things are looking up when it comes to the three other major server manufacturers--in particular with IBM, which was the first of the big four to endorse Opteron but which lately has promoted the chip far less aggressively than Hewlett-Packard or Sun Microsystems.

At the launch, IBM is expected to announce a new blade server using the Opteron processors, sources familiar with the plan said. Previously, IBM has used only Intel's Xeon and its own PowerPC 970 in its thin blade servers. IBM didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Expected pricing for the processors ranges from $851 for the Opteron 265 to $1,299 for the Opteron 275. For more powerful chips in the 800 series, prices range from $1,514 for the Opteron 865 to $2,649 for the Opteron 875.