VARs Weigh In On Intel's Quad-Core Processors

"It's very cool that we're already starting to talk about quad-cores, since dual-cores are just starting to really gain traction," said Todd Swank, director of marketing at Nor-Tech, a system builder in Burnsville, Minn.

As expected, Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., shipped the industry's first four-core processors in November, including three quad-core Xeon 5300 processors and the Core 2 Extreme Quad-Core Processors QX6700.

Intel plans to launch next quarter two more quad-cores: a low-voltage version and a single-socket processor for desktops and workstations. The mainstream quad-core desktop processor is expected to be available in January, in time for the retail launch of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, Intel said.

The company estimates there will be a 50 percent improvement in Xeon performance and up to a 75 percent improvement on the Core 2 Extreme workstation.

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The quad-core Xeon 5300 chips have clock speeds 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. The quad-core Xeons are $455, $690 and $851. The Core 2 Extreme quad-core in a 130-watt package costs $999.

Intel sees an immediate benefit for high-end server applications and virtualization software. On the desktop, it 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 real beauty of the quad-core is its compatibility with Intel's current chipset and motherboard platform, said Chuck Orcutt, server business development manager at Seneca Data, a system builder in Syracuse, N.Y. "Reliability and compatibility with Bensley are important. 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."

Some partners worry about a shortage, but Intel said the supply is plentiful for all system builders, not just OEMs. "We expect a rapid conversion from dual-core to quad-core, so we planned out supply that way," said Steve Smith, a corporate director of operations at Intel.