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Intel demos dual core, uncorks Napa

Chipmaker's multiprocessing technology makes its stage debut, and Intel looks to its next take on Centrino.

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel on Wednesday took the wraps off a pair of upcoming chip technologies.

Company executives gave the first demonstration of its much-anticipated dual-core desktop processor at the Intel Developer Forum here and revealed details of Sonoma, the next version of the Centrino wireless technology, and of its successor Napa.

"Dual core is coming and building on...hyperthreading," Bill Siu, general manager of Intel's desktop group, said of Intel's dual-core desktop processor as he demonstrated the chip. "This will be a very substantial change, and it will require a holistic approach."

Siu added that Intel has pledged to deliver its first dual core processors during 2005.

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Intel is looking to dual-core chips, along with new mobile platforms, wireless notebooks and entertainment PCs, to create demand from existing business customers and to open up consumer markets. Last week, the chipmaker lowered its revenue projections for the third quarter, citing lower-than-expected demand for products, including its PC processors.

The PC chip leader is working to fend off rival Advanced Micro Devices, which has been coming on strong with its own development of dual-core processors and displayed a working dual-core server chip last week. Dual-core chips are central to mainstream chipmakers' efforts to boost performance, as new manufacturing technologies permit more circuitry to be etched onto a slice of silicon.

Industry analysts weren't sure whether Intel's dual-core processor would come from the x86 or the Itanium lineage. On Wednesday, the company showed it has working versions of both.

"That's the biggest thing here," Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said of the dual-core desktop demonstration.

Like the current Pentium 4, Intel's dual-core desktop chip is built on the NetBurst architecture and fits into motherboards using Intel's 915 Grantsdale chipset. But Siu declined to provide many details on the dual-core demonstration chip, which he described as an engineering prototype.

"It is real silicon running on a standard 915 platform," Siu said. He wouldn't comment on whether it has the 64-bit memory extension technology, called EM64T.

Anand Chandrasekher, general manager of Intel's mobile platforms group, was more forthcoming during the keynote speech, giving the code names of upcoming notebook technologies.

Chandrasekher said that the Sonoma version of Centrino is scheduled for release in the first quarter of next year, likely to be followed by Napa later in 2005 or 2006. The Napa edition will contain a chipset code-named Calistoga and next-generation wireless technology codenamed Golan, he said. Intel recently introduced Calexico 2, a Wi-Fi part for Sonoma that enables devices to connect to 802.11a/b/g networks.

Intel's Sonoma platform is essentially the next version of Centrino, the chipmaker's bundle of wireless chips for notebooks. Chandrasekher confirmed that Sonoma will include the latest Pentium M processor and Wi-Fi module, as well as a new chipset dubbed Alviso.

Alviso, whose scheduled introduction has been pushed back from the fourth quarter this year into early 2005, promises performance enhancements in the form of a faster 533MHz front-side bus--the pipeline for data to flow from the processor into memory--and better built-in graphics and high-definition audio.

Intel has a number of other improvements slated for notebooks. A little further in the future, Chandrasekher said, a dual-core notebook chip, code-named Yonah, will have the ability to operate one or both of its two cores, jumping back and forth as required by the ebb and flow of processing power.

Intel also wants to foster increases in notebook battery life, using technology to ratchet it up to 8 hours on a single charge by 2010--roughly doubling the life of the battery in most notebooks.

While laptops are considered the growth sector in the PC market right now, desktops are still part of Intel's plans. It is working on innovations in desktops that it hopes will draw more consumer business. And while customers will have to wait until next year to see dual-core chips, Intel has something up its sleeve for this year's holiday season, Siu said.

Siu also demonstrated so-called entertainment PCs from Hewlett-Packard and Fujitsu during his part of the keynote speech. Intel helped create the machines, which are designed to be stylish enough to fit in with a home stereo system but also to be useful in helping deal with multimedia. Thus entertainment PCs will be operable via remote control and will allow consumers to archive and access a wide range of multimedia files, including films on DVD and their own photos and home movies. They will also enable owners to record television shows, and download and view films and other content.

The new systems are likely to be priced higher than regular desktop PCs, but the extra cost will be worth it, Siu said in a meeting with reporters.

"The mission of entertainment PC is to replace a bunch of audio and video equipment you're already spending money on. If you add up the cost of a stereo system, a digital video recorder, a video game player, you're spending far more than $800, so I think it's a bargain," Siu said.

Intel also plans to bring its SpeedStep technology to desktop PCs next year. That technology enables a processor to adjust its voltage and clock speed, reducing performance and therefore power consumption when less oomph is needed. Intel has used the technology in notebooks for years and has said it would be using it in its handheld processors, too.

CNET News.com's John Spooner contributed to this report.