Intel Eyes Quad-Cores in Q4

By John G. Spooner  |  Print this article Print


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Updated: Quads for the holidays? Intel's first quad-core desktop processor is expected to arrive in November.

High-end desktop PCs will sport quad-core processors from Intel as the fourth quarter gets under way.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company, which pulled forward the launch of its "Kentsfield" quad-core desktop chip from the first quarter of 2007 into the fourth quarter of 2006, is still several months from launching the chip.

However, it's now expected to introduce the quad-core processor as part of its Core Extreme family in early November, sources familiar with its plans said.

The Core Extreme, which is targeted mainly at PC enthusiasts who are into gaming as well as certain corporate users whose jobs involve creating online content or editing videos, represents the pinnacle of Intel's desktops processor line.

Right now, the chip maker offers a dual-core Core 2 Extreme chip, based on its Core 2 Duo for desktops.

The quad-core Core Extreme chip, capable of executing four threads simultaneously, will use the same basic circuitry and will also serve the very high-end of the desktop market.

Intel, for its part, is looking to the Core 2 Duo and Core Extreme processor family to increase its competitiveness versus rival Advanced Micro Devices and to gain back market share following a string of lackluster quarterly financial performances.

Although the quad-core Core Extreme is likely to come in a somewhat limited number of desktop models, the chip along with efforts by Advanced Micro Devices—AMD's 4x4 platform will install two dual-core CPUs into a high-end desktop—and graphics card makers will contribute to an ongoing renaissance in the high-end desktop market.

Even as notebooks continue to gain in popularity and dual-core desktops have fallen in price, high-end desktops aimed at enthusiasts are gaining a greater capabilities, analysts said.

"We're seeing a sort of renewal of the high-end of the PC market," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Although he had no specific knowledge of the Core Extreme launch, McCarron said that after a time in which few desktops eclipsed the $2,000 mark, it's now possible to find high-end, $3,500 to $4,000 PCs begin offered as standard systems.

"There definitely seems to be a resurgence there," he said.

Part of the turn of events has to do with hardware performance. Desktops equipped with multicore processors and dual graphics boards are upping the ante, there.

But software, such as multi-threaded games and content creation applications, has also begun to catch up, industry watchers said.

With the arrival of the quad-core Core Extreme, desktops will be able to offer more. Aside from delivering four processors—either by selecting Intel's quad-core chip or taking AMD's 4x4 platform approach—PC makers can also offer quad graphics.

Choosing the right setup, including a motherboard that supports twin PCI-Express graphics card slots—such boards are already available from numerous manufacturers—and the right type of graphics cards, models such as Nvidia's GeForce 7950 GX2 that include two graphics processors each, allow a PC makers to deliver quad graphics.

An Intel spokesperson said that the company's Kentsfield chip would be available in PCs during the fourth quarter. However, he declined to elaborate on other details surrounding the chip's launch.

AMD, for its part, has said it would deliver its 4x4 platform during the second half of 2006. It won't have a quad-core chip, however, until mid-2007. It aims to demonstrate that chip, its first quad-core Opteron for servers, before the end of 2006.

AMD has criticized rival Intel's initial quad-core approach, which pairs two dual-core Core 2 Duo chips using special packaging, versus incorporating four processor cores into the same piece of silicon.

AMD's quad-core Opteron will incorporate four cores, for example. However, Intel counters that its initial approach allows it to roll out its first quad-core chips months before AMD.

Intel will follow with quad-core chips whose cores are on the same silicon in 2007.

Intel has offered few details on its first quad-core chips—the Core Extreme is expected to operate at 2.66GHz, though, some reports have said—aside from confirming it will derive its first quad-core desktop chips from joining two dual-core Core 2 Duos and its first quad-core server chips from packaging two Xeon 5100s.

However, it is expected to offer more details at its Intel Developer Forum in September.

Intel executives, deflecting criticisms, have said they see their initial approach to delivering a quad-core chip as a design trade-off, aimed at shortening the time it takes to bring the chip to market.

Intel will also ship its first quad-core Xeon DP server chip, dubbed "Clovertown," during the fourth quarter of 2006, the company has said.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to add more information on the timing of Intel's first quad-core chip.

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John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET News.com, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

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