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Intel brings virtualization to the desktop

Chipmaker will launch desktop chips that can subdivide tasks in a hardware feature called Virtualization Technology.

Intel is set to launch Monday new desktop processors that can subdivide tasks in a hardware feature called Virtualization Technology, or VT.

While VT is currently found in some of Intel's Xeon processors for servers, this is the first time that the chipmaking giant has extended the technology to the desktop via its Pentium line.

VT makes it easier to run multiple operating systems or applications in independent partitions or "containers" on the same chip, said Chad Taggard, Intel's director of technology marketing.

Intel is offering two Pentium 4 chips that are VT enabled. The 672 and 662 are shipping in desktops from Asian PC makers Acer, Founder, Lenovo and TongFang. The Intel processors are priced at $605 and $401 respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities.

Beyond the single-core Pentium 4, Intel is expected to enable its dual-core Pentium D to run VT in the first quarter of 2006. By the first half of next year, Intel expects to fill out the rest of its product line including its next-generation Xeon and Itanium server processors as well as its Pentium M line for laptops, Taggard said.

"We are starting out with releasing VT on a single-core Pentium because some government and IT agencies have standards that do not validate dual core as of yet and we want them to still take advantage of virtualization," Taggard said.

For consumers, Taggard said the VT technology could prevent some basic computer foul-ups.

For example, playing games or chatting through instant messaging with friends could be partitioned on a separate section of the computer, Taggard said.

"And when the machine turns off, that personal information is destroyed and does not carry on to the other partition," he said.

The security of online banking could also improve because a partitioned interaction would be erased after use, rendering some spyware ineffective.

For dual-processor servers, VT support will arrive with the Dempsey dual-core processor due out in the first quarter of 2006. Advanced Micro Devices plans to introduce its equivalent technology, code-named Pacifica, in the first half of 2006.

"A company can update a PC's security software or other applications in the background without the user having to stop their work," Taggard said. "Each client could have a partition so that virus updates could be handled as the problem arises. Businesses can better protect themselves from viruses by filtering network traffic through a separate partition before it reaches the user."

The feature is also designed to improve the performance and flexibility of software such as VMware's ESX Server, Microsoft's Virtual PC, and the open-source Xen project. All three entities have lent their support to Intel's endeavors, Taggard said.

The feature is one of the chipmaking giant's extensions sometimes referred to as a "Star Ts" or *Ts, Taggard said, which Intel plans on combining. Intel's VT is expected to complement another Intel technology--Active Management Technology--on dual-core Intel business processors code-named Averill, later in 2006.