The dual-core duel between Intel and AMD is only the beginning of a technology race, which will grow more intense as the battleground shifts toward the end of this year from desktop and server processors to the previously unexploited territory of the mobile space.
Both companies are currently readying dual core mobile chips, and have begun quietly telling their respective customers about their plans.
"The first dual-core mobile product, [code-named] Yonah, will start shipping for revenue at the end of the year," Jeff Austin, desktop product marketing manager at Intel, said in an interview. "It will launch in volume in 2006."
Yonah also appears on a processor roadmap prepared for use at the Intel Developer Forum conference in Taiwan earlier this month. The roadmap indicates that both single- and dual-core versions of Yonah will be available sometime in 2006. Yonah is part of what Intel is calling its Napa mobile platform, which also includes a core-logic chipset code-named Calistoga and a wireless LAN chip called Golan.
As for AMD, it's planning two lines of low-power, dual-core mobile processors to extend the initial stab it made at that space Thursday when it announced its Athlon 64 X2 dual-core parts. Though mainly aimed at the desktop, the Athlons can also be used in full-featured "desktop replacement" notebooks.
However, the low-powered dual cores currently in the works will be aimed at the sweet spot of the notebook market. "They will be true mobile processors," AMD spokesperson Jo Albers said, in an interview. "They will be introduced in 2006 within the mobile AMD Athlon 64 family and also in the Turion 64 family. The Turion is designed for thin and light notebooks."
Word of the mobile plans comes at the end of a week filed with competing product announcements, as both companies jockeyed for dual-core prominence. On Monday, Intel announced that its dual-core Pentiums had begun shipping. In a high-profile event in New York on Thursday, AMD said that dual-core versions of its Opteron server CPU were shipping, and that samples of its Athlon 64 X2 desktop processor were in customers' hands.
But even those announcements and the upcoming mobile chips don't complete the picture. Even more dual-core parts are on the way. "Right now we have more than 15 multicore products on our roadmap," says Austin. "When we exit 2006, greater than 70 percent of the desktop and mobile Pentium-class processors we will ship will be dual-core."
Leading the list of processors planned by Intel are dual-core implementations of its high-end Itanium. A dual-core Itanium with the code name of Montecito is due to ship by the end of this year. That will eventually be followed by two next-generation parts, code-named Millington and Montvale, which are also in the works.
Dual-core versions of Intel's Xeon, which competes against Opteron in the commodity and mid-range server markets, are due in the first quarter of 2006. Those processors are code-named Paxville and Dempsey.
AMD's immediate plans center on fielding faster versions of its initial dual-core offerings. "We have quite a bit of headroom left in the frequency road map," Marty Seyer, vice president and general manager of AMD's microprocessor business unit, said in an interview. The dual-core Opterons announced this week range in clock speed from 1.8 GHz to 2.2 GHz. The dual-core Athlon 64 parts range from 2.2 GHz to 2.4 GHz.
AMD also has a non-dual-core part up its sleeve, in the form of a 64-bit version of its Sempron processor. Intended for use in so-called value-priced PCs, the 64-bit Sempron will compete against 64-bit Celeron parts announced by Intel in early April. Seyer said he couldn't comment on when the 64-bit Semprons would be available.