Intel to ship quad-core chips in November

Intel Corp. will ship quad-core processors in November for servers and gaming PCs, accelerating its effort to regain momentum in sales of power-efficient chips.

Thirteen vendors have already announced plans to sell quad-core based PCs for the high-end enthusiast market, including Dell Inc. and its Alienware division, Gateway, Velocity Micro and Voodoo, Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini said Tuesday at the company’s Intel Developer Forum trade show.

Adding extra cores to a chip allows the PC to split up heavy workloads. In a demonstration at the San Francisco show, Otellini showed “Alan Wake,” a planned video game from Remedy that devotes an entire CPU (central processing unit) core to the physics simulation of action scenes like explosions and tornadoes. The new quad-core gaming chip will deliver a 70 percent performance boost compared to Intel’s own current dual-core gaming processor, the company said.

Intel will follow that “Core 2 Extreme” chip with the “Core 2 Quad,” a four-core chip for mainstream desktops that will ship in the first quarter of 2007, he said. On the server side, Intel will call its new quad-core chip the Xeon 5300, and follow its November launch with a more efficient, 50-watt version in the first quarter of 2007.

The launches would be a crucial boost for Intel, which has been losing market share to competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and missing recent earnings targets, prompting Otellini to sell several corporate divisions and lay off 10,000 people in recent weeks.

In the past quarter, the company also accelerated its schedule for shipping a new generation of dual-core, 65-nanometer process chips, featuring the Core 2 Duo chip for notebooks and desktops and the Xeon 5100 for servers. Intel claims to have had great commercial success with the new family, shipping 5 million Core 2 Duo processors since the chips launched 60 days ago.

Still, the adoption rate for AMD’s dual-core Opteron server chip has continued to grow, since many experts consider it far more power efficient in data centers. Reaching customers first with quad-core chips could help Intel to change that reputation.

“Perception doesn’t change overnight, but what you’re seeing is Intel rebuilding itself, rebuilding its product line and laying a foundation for the future,” Otellini said.

Industry analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64 agreed, saying “Intel’s going to have some really solid performance advantages over the next few months.”

It is unclear how much revenue these quad-core chips will add to Intel’s ailing bottom line, however, since they will appeal mostly to the small pool of high-end users with scientific and video processing jobs. Average users never complain that they feel constrained by the performance of their applications on current chips, Brookwood said.

While adding more cores to a PC or server helps it computer faster, users also demand efficiency. So Intel will maintain current power levels in the new family of four-core chips, running the Core 2 Extreme at 130 watts, and the mainstream Core 2 Quad around 100 watts. The company will make three versions of its quad-core server chips, ranging from a high-efficiency 50-watt chip to a standard 80-watt and a high-performance chip above that.

Intel is also pushing new technology to market by continuing to shrink the process technology it uses to build the chips. Intel will start producing 45-nm process chips by the second half of 2007 at a US$3 billion fab in Oregon, adding another plant in Arizona that year and a third in Israel by the first half of 2008, he said.

That will allow Intel to move from its current 65-nm Core microarchitecture to the 45-nm “Nehalem” design by 2008 and the 32-nm “Gesher” family by 2010.

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