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Intel To Land First Blow In Quad-Core Fight With AMD

Intel's first quad-core x86-based processors will hit the market in November and be used in high-end gaming systems. Its first mainstream desktop version will be ready in the first quarter of 2007.

Intel plans to combine its speed advantage over rival Advanced Micro Devices in the upcoming quad-core quarrel with promises to meet aggressive energy efficiency goals for processors targeted at both servers and desktop PCs.

Intel's first quad-core x86-based processors will hit the market in November with the introduction of the QX 6700, or the Core 2 Extreme quad-core processor, and will be used in high-end gaming systems. In the first quarter of 2007, Intel plans its first mainstream desktop version to be called the Core 2 Quad.

For servers, the Quad-Core Xeon 5300 will ship later this year, with a low-power Quad-Core Xeon L5310 planned for the first quarter of 2007, as well as high-performance and higher-powered Xeon version planned for introduction next year primarily for workstations or server installations where heat is not a primary concern.

The quad-core devices will in most cases meet existing thermal envelopes for power dissipation in desktop and server installations, while providing a 50% to 70% performance boost.

The initial Xeon 5300 is expected to use 80 watts, the same as the existing Xeon dual-core platform. The low-voltage quad-core Xeon will run at 50 watts, and will likely be used primarily in blade servers. The high-performance Xeon will run at 120 watts. Desktop quad-core processors will run between 100 and 130 watts.

Intel will use the same approach it used initially in moving from single core to dual core processors during the transition to quad-core. The first quad-core designs from Intel will combine two dual-core processors into a single package. AMD, by contrast will bring out its first quad-core processors using a single, or monolithic, design that places all four cores into a single piece of silicon.

The multichip package approach will allow Intel to get to market quicker with its quad-core processors, and with better usable processor yields that will translate into lower manufacturing costs. As Intel transitions to the next step in manufacturing technology, 45 nanometers, it will likely move its quad-core designs to a monolithic design as well.

"This is a multichip package, but so what? I think you'd be misreading the market if you think people care about the packaging," Paul Otellini, Intel president and CEO, said after his keynote Tuesday.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, says it appears that Intel will be "right in the ballpark" in maintaining good thermal performance with its processors during the dual-core to quad-core transition.

Mike Feibus, an analyst with Tec Knowledge Strategies Inc., says the quad-core jump Intel will get on AMD is too late to reverse much of the momentum that AMD has gained. "A lot of damage has already been done," he says. "The Dell move [to use AMD processors] was a slap in the face for Intel."

AMD has been able to get "quite a bit of mileage" our of its energy efficiency push with its Opteron processors for servers in the past two years. Intel's recent introductions, including the upcoming quad-core devices, should enable it to also begin touting its ability to deliver the best performance per watt, Feibus says.

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