Quad-core processors, which combine four cores into a single package, are used exclusively today in high-end PCs and servers because of limited supplies and high price tags, iSuppli said. Pricing for a quad-core processor is as much as 170% higher than a dual-core chip, which itself is more expensive than a single-core chip.
Supplies, however, are expected to rise and prices to drop as chipmakers ramp up production, analysts say.
As a result, the number of mainstream desktops, priced between $500 and $1,000, with quad-core processors are expected to increase from 5% in the third quarter of this year to 18% in the fourth quarter of next year, and 49% a year later, iSuppli said. Mainstream PCs accounted for 42% of total desktop shipments in the first quarter.
With the additional power, mainstream PCs will have capabilities reserved only for high-end systems today. Users, for example, will be able to do more tasks simultaneously, such as converting videos, burning DVDs, playing 3D games, and ripping music. "To put this into context, a quad-core-based PC is very similar to a quad-microprocessor system from the pre-multi-core era, such as a workstation or server, which would have been a very high-end system, priced well in excess of $10,000," iSuppli analyst Matthew Wilkins said in a statement.
Low-end value desktop PCs, priced from $300 to $500, won't ship with quad-core processors for at least the next two years, according to iSuppli. These systems represent 52% of worldwide PC shipments. Among performance desktops, defined as $1,000 or more, 94% will have quad-core processors by the end of 2009 from 16% in the first quarter of this year. Performance desktops comprise only 6% of total PC unit shipments.
Quad-core penetration, however, is expected to lag in the notebook segment. Mainstream notebook PCs with the high-powered technology are not expected to be available until the first quarter of 2009, when only 4% of the systems will ship with the technology. That number will increase to 11% by the fourth quarter. Mainstream notebooks are priced from $750 to $2,000.
Intel, the largest PC chipmaker, introduced last year a quad-core processor, which is actually two integrated duo-core chips in the same package. Rival Advanced Micro Devices is scheduled to release its quad-core product in the middle of the year. AMD's chip is expected to have four processors on the same piece of silicon.