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New Era Dawns With Dual-Core Chips

Intel and AMD ship dual-core processors aimed at different markets
The dual-core microprocessor era began officially last week. But the two leading chipmakers are taking divergent paths. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is making dual-core chips available for servers, and Intel is providing chips for desktop PCs.

Initially, it appears that computer users will get the most performance gains from dual-core processors in servers, where multithreaded applications are more prevalent than on desktops. "Single-threaded applications won't run any faster no matter how many processors you throw against them," says Steve Cumings, group manager for ProLiant systems at Hewlett-Packard. Multithreaded applications divide tasks into several threads so they can be handled simultaneously.

Mike Feibus, an analyst with TechKnowledge Strategies, says Intel's release April 18 of a dual-core, 3.2-GHz Pentium Extreme Edition processor "was purely a marketing play." AMD's release days later of its first dual-core Opteron processors is a clearer demonstration of how multicore processor performance gains will aid users, Feibus says. Although the chips provide no guarantee of success for AMD, "it's clear they have a lead in another technology over Intel," he says.

Paul Otellini, president and chief operating officer of Intel, isn't worried by any perceived technological superiority of AMD in the dual-core battle. Intel doesn't plan to have dual-core Xeon processors for the server market until late this year or early next year. "People pay a premium for Intel products, and we're outselling our competition by a large measure," he told analysts last week.

Intel is developing more than 15 multicore projects, and about three-fourths of its processor shipments will be dual-core versions by the end of next year, the company says.

Vijay Agarwala, director of high-performance computing at Penn State University, has a network of 100 single-core Opteron-based servers. The addition of new four-way and eight-way dual-core Opteron servers from Sun Microsystems in the coming months should provide performance gains of 50% or more. Says Agarwala, "This is one of the most significant advances of the last five years."