Intel Launches First Quad-Cores, With More To Come Soon


The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant on Tuesday rolled out the industry's first four-core processors, including three quad-core Xeon 5300 processors and the Core 2 Extreme Quad-Core Processor QX6700.

And in the first quarter of 2007, Intel plans to launch two more quad-cores: a low-voltage version for ultra-dense servers in a thermal envelope of 50 watts, and a single-socket processor for desktops and workstations. The mainstream quad-core desktop processor will be available in January, in time for the retail launch of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, Intel said.

Partners applauded the improved performance of the quad-core and the opportunities it brings to the channel for servers, workstations and desktop PCs. Intel, which launched its first dual-core processors last April, has made a speedy ascent to quad-core, they said.

"It's very cool that we're already starting to talk about quad-cores, since dual-cores are just starting to really gain traction and acceptance in the mainstream market," said Todd Swank, director of marketing at Nor-Tech, a system builder in Burnsville, Minn. "2007 is going to be a big year for computer resellers. With Vista being launched and these new hardware platforms, we're setting the stage for a whole new wave of innovative applications to be launched."

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The quad-core Xeon 5300 chips have clock speeds ranging from 1.6GHz to 2.66GHz and front-side bus speeds of 1066MHz to 1333MHz in thermal envelopes of 80 watts. A performance-optimized, 120-watt version of the quad-core Xeon is available at a new price point of $1,172.

Intel said the quad-core Xeons are priced at $455, $690 and $851, comparable with its dual-core processors. The Core 2 Extreme quad-core, in a 130-watt package, costs $999.

With the new chips, Intel said it sees an immediate benefit for high-end server applications and virtualization software. On the desktop, the company expects the processors to give a big boost to digital content creation, video editing and Vista's 3-D features and Aero user interface. The company estimates that customers will have a 50 percent improvement in Xeon performance and up to a 75 percent improvement on the Core 2 Extreme workstation.

Chuck Orcutt, server business development manager at Seneca Data, a system builder in Syracuse, N.Y., said the real beauty of the quad-core is its compatibility with Intel's current chipset and motherboard platform. "Performance is important, but it doesn't have to be the fastest and most cutting-edge processor. Reliability and compatibility with Bensley are important," Orcutt said, adding that Seneca Data has been working with pre-production units in house. "It's a drop-in upgrade. There are no changes in the motherboards, except maybe BIOS transitions. The move to the Bensley platforms was a bigger deal than this."

Joe Toste, vice president of sales and marketing at Equus Computer Systems, Minneapolis, said the quad-core processor will pump up Intel's reputation in the high-end server world, though it may take a while before there's enough supply for channel partners.

"The real story of the quad-core is virtualization. The additional threading will make the quad a better processor for virtualization, and when they do go to market, they'll have a strong story with VMware," Toste said. "But multinationals will get it first."

Intel said the quad-core supply is plentiful for all partners. "We have a robust supply line, and we're using the same manufacturing process as dual-core. So it's easy for us to offer the quad-core in volume," said Steve Smith, corporate director of operations for Intel's Digital Enterprise Group. "We expect a rapid conversion from dual-core to quad-core, so we planned out supply that way."

Either way, channel partners can wait, according to Steve Kleynhans, an analyst at research firm Gartner. He predicts the quad-core won't become mainstream for another 18 months and expects no "appreciable impact" on OEM and system builder business next year.

"I don't foresee quads having any significant impact on PC sales until the end of 2007 at the earliest," Kleynhans said. "They will continue to be a niche product for high-end content-creation workstations and servers. Even avid gamers probably won't turn to quads in a big way until games begin to leverage the extra cores, and that is likely late in 2007."

Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices, for its part, plans to introduce quad-core processors in mid-2007 for two-way and four-way servers, whose "electrical and thermal specifications will be unchanged," the company said.

"By delivering a consistent thermal performance while adding two processing cores, plus additional planned architectural enhancements, AMD will significantly advance its performance-per-watt capabilities," said Randy Allen, corporate vice president of AMD's server and workstation business.