Intel’s first dual-core chip shipping now

Intel Corp. has begun volume shipments of the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor, the company’s first dual-core processor, a company executive said Monday.

The chips are being shipped to hardware makers ahead of an official launch, which is expected to take place soon.

“The launch will be in the immediate future,” said Abhi Talwalkar, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group, speaking with reporters at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Taipei. He said Intel’s dual-core announcement was “imminent.”

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) are both close to launching dual-core processors based on the x86 instruction set. AMD is likely to be first, with the launch of its first dual-core Opteron processors expected on April 21. The date marks the two-year anniversary of the introduction of Opteron, which was AMD’s first 64-bit chip.

Talwalkar declined to comment on when exactly Intel plans to officially launch the Pentium Extreme Edition 840. But in a presentation at IDF he showed off a Dimension XPS computer from Dell Inc. based on the chip and said that system would be available sometime this month. The Pentium Extreme Edition 840 has two processor cores, each running at 3.2GHz.

Later on Monday, Dell confirmed it will use the dual-core Extreme Edition processor in the fifth generation of its Dimension XPS desktop, which is designed for gamers and PC enthusiasts. That PC will be available “soon” in the U.S. and Canada for US$2,999, Dell said in a release. It was not available for order on Dell’s Web site on Monday.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Gateway Inc. were unable to comment on their specific plans for Intel’s Pentium Extreme Edition 840 chip or the timing of their product launches.

Dell is often allowed to get a jump on its competition when announcing new Intel products, as it did a few weeks ago with an announcement of four-way servers based on new Intel Xeon MP chips a week before the chips were broadly available. Some analysts believe this is one of Dell’s rewards for remaining an exclusive Intel customer and keeping AMD’s chips out of its products. HP and Gateway both offer PCs based on AMD’s chips.

Talwalkar downplayed the possibility that AMD could beat Intel to market with a dual-core chip, saying that being first was not important. “This is not a race,” he said.

Instead, the launch of these first dual-core x86 chips is the beginning of a significant transition within the industry, Talwalkar said, noting that Intel currently has 15 processors in development that are based on dual-core and multicore technology. Following the launch of the Pentium Extreme Edition, Intel will introduce a second dual-core chip, called the Pentium D. That announcement is expected before the end of June.