November 13, 2006 9:00 PM PST

Intel's quad-core processors go live

Intel will cap off a turnaround year on Tuesday with the expected introduction of its first quad-core processors, beating rival Advanced Micro Devices to the punch by several months.

Originally scheduled to launch next year, the new Xeon 5300 and Core 2 Extreme QX6700 should make an immediate dent in servers and in high-end workstation/enthusiast PCs. In those markets, users can take advantage of software that's already been written to exploit four separate processing threads.

The usual suspects plan to use Intel's chips in their latest products. Dell jumped the gun last week with the announcement of new quad-core systems, including new servers and workstations. Word broke of IBM's proposed quad-core offerings last Thursday. And Hewlett-Packard is expected to follow suit on Tuesday with its own servers and workstations featuring the new Xeon chips.

PCs from Dell, Gateway, Velocity Micro and others with the new Core 2 Extreme QX6700 processor should also start to appear in time for the holiday shopping season. That chip is beyond the needs of most PC users, and it generally falls outside their budgets as well, at a price of $999. But certain PC enthusiasts are always excited about the prospect of having the fastest PC processor on earth for a short time, which Intel's QX6700 will be until AMD releases a competing chip.

Mainstream PC users won't see the benefits of the quad-core processors for some time--well into next year, at the earliest--but Intel can a least claim a "first," after several years of trailing AMD at seemingly every turn.

AMD is not expected to release a quad-core processor until the middle of next year, when it is set to unveil chips designed for servers. It is taking a different approach to quad-core manufacturing than Intel, choosing an integrated, or "monolithic," design in which all four processing cores sit on a single piece of silicon.

Intel's quad-core chips, by contrast, were built by putting two of its Xeon 5100 series processors placed into a single package. The company admittedly did this to get out in front of AMD, which apparently taught Intel a lesson last year when it launched dual-core server chips months ahead of Intel's own offerings and stole a significant chunk of market share.

AMD argues that its monolithic design will handle certain workloads faster and more power-efficiently than Intel's quad-core chips. But until AMD's chips are out on the market, analysts are reluctant to make any predictions about performance.

Intel knows that maintaining the performance leadership crown in the server market is key to holding onto customers, said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's server platforms group. "When we don't have leadership performance, we should expect to lose share," he said.

AMD enjoyed a performance advantage with its Opteron chip for several years, before Intel introduced the Xeon 5100 processor in June as part of a move to a new chip-making blueprint.

Intel is expected to release several benchmark results on Tuesday, showing the impressive performance gains delivered by the new Xeon 5300, compared with the Xeon 5100 processor. Four Xeon 5300 processors are available, three of which are rated at 80 watts of power consumption. A special "performance-optimized" version called the Xeon X5355 runs at 2.66GHz and is rated at 120 watts of power consumption at maximum output.

The X5355 processor is the most powerful and pricey of the latest chips, with a list price of $1,172. The 2.33GHz E5345 costs $851, the 1.86GHz E5320 costs $690, and the 1.60GHz E5310 costs $455. The X5355 and the E5345 also come with a faster front-side bus connecting the processor to the rest of the system, up to 1,333MHz from the 1,066MHz bus used on the E5320 and E5310.

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Intel Xeon, quad-core, AMD, AMD Opteron, Intel

 

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