February 25, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Intel show to tackle debate over dual-core chips

At an Intel-sponsored developer conference next week, one of the big debates will be, "what exactly is a dual-core processor?"

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker will provide details about a host of processors at the three-day Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. On tap: a discussion of chips for servers, notebooks and desktops coming out later this year that will contain two computing cores instead of just one. Adding cores lets computers handle multiple applications simultaneously and complete time-consuming tasks more rapidly.

The definition of "dual-core processor," however, is broad and ranges from a single chip in which the two integrated cores share resources to something that consists of two functionally and physically separate pieces of silicon that happen to be in the same package. Packaging, which protects the silicon and contains the metal bumps for carrying signals from the chip to the rest of the computer, is an integral part of a processor.

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What's new:
At its Developer Forum next week, Intel will take the wraps off new processor designs and tackle the growing debate over what constitutes a dual-core chip.

Bottom line:
The conference will offer a peek at the chipmaker's plans and will likely reignite a debate over whether Intel or AMD is further ahead in dual-core development.

More stories on dual-core chips

Intel processors will span the spectrum. In Montecito, a dual-core Itanium chip, the two cores under the same roof will each have a dedicated memory cache for rapid data access. The two cores, however, will share a bus for shuttling data to the outside world, as well as other resources, such as an integrated component, code-named Foxton, for saving energy.

By contrast, the Smithfield chip for desktops is more like a condominium. The two cores will come on the same piece of silicon but will largely function independently, according to sources familiar with the company's plans. Until somewhat recently, Intel debated making Smithfield out of two separate pieces of silicon in one package, sources said. It is expected to run around 3GHz to 3.2GHz.

This expected lack of intimacy between the cores in Smithfield is probably beneficial to Intel, according to analysts. It is likely one of the reasons the company was able to advance the commercial release of dual-core desktop chips from 2006 to the second quarter of 2005, several months ahead of the first desktop dual core from rival Advanced Micro Devices.

Consumers won't experience a difference in performance between a highly integrated dual-core processor and two chips that simply share the same package. Nonetheless, a comparative lack of integration will reinvigorate the debate over whether Intel or AMD is further along in dual-core development. In the past few years, AMD has touted ideas such as 64-bit computing and faster input-output links first, putting Intel

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