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Intel announces Conroe launch

Desktop chip set to arrive on 27 July

Intel's next-generation 'Conroe' chip for desktop PCs is slated for release on 27 July, in the second phase of its attempt to recover from slumping sales with new products.

The company also plans to launch its dual-core Itanium chip for high-end servers, code-named 'Montecito' on 18 July, and has already begun shipping them to computer vendors.

The events mark the beginning of a busy summer for the California firm.

"We plan to introduce multiple chips, more than 10, over the next 30 to 60 days," said company spokesman Bill Kircos. The chips will include a standard desktop version of Conroe – officially the Core 2 Duo – as well as an 'extreme' edition for gamers and other combinations of features and prices.

The Conroe chip will be available to consumers almost immediately, since Intel has already begun shipping the processor to certain channels and manufacturers, Kircos said. Intel will reach full production within 30 days.

Back to school

The timing is crucial because the company plans to sell Conroe in the looming back-to-school and Christmas periods, as well as for corporate upgrades planned by many IT departments for the end of the fourth quarter, he said.

Sales of Conroe will also mark the official launch of Intel's VPro platform, the bundle of features for business desktops announced in April.

Intel has found strong profits in selling bundles of hardware and software in platforms such as Centrino for mobile desktops and Viiv for home entertainment. VPro will extend the idea to business desktops.

The Core 2 Duo chips enable those platforms by delivering a collection of features that Intel calls 'Star Ts'.

"Those are leading technologies we've been rolling out in various chips already. But this new microarchitecture will include all of them: 64bit computing, virtualisation, active management, I/O, and hyperthreading to come later," Kircos said.

Intel's first step to recuperate from sluggish sales came last month, when it unveiled the Woodcrest chip for servers – officially the Xeon 5100. The company also plans to launch its Merom chip for mobile notebooks in August. Conroe, Woodcrest and Merom are built with the company's new Core microarchitecture, the successor to the Netburst design that produced the Pentium line.

Earnings disappointment

Intel accelerated the launch schedule of these three chips in the wake of a disappointing earnings report in April, when the company said it missed estimates for the quarter and would miss forecasts for annual revenue in 2006.

Intel is the world's biggest chip maker, but has been losing market share to AMD. Intel hopes Conroe will help to arrest that slide, and early reports from PC vendors suggest that the new chip will make a difference.

"The high performance, raw processing power and low power consumption will deliver a lot of value for consumers," said Liem Nguyen, a spokesman for Dell.

"We've been working closely with Intel on testing and development, and we saw a 40 percent performance gain and almost the equivalent for improved power consumption [compared with the previous generation]."

Dell plans to sell the Conroe chip in its high-end XPS 700 gaming desktop first, with other products to come.

As it prepared to battle Intel in the marketplace, chip-making rival AMD insisted it would stick to its schedule for releasing new chips, and would not cut prices on current chips.

"We have been watching the competitive situation very closely, but it will not have an impact on our ability to deliver value to the market," said David Schwarzbach, division manager for the desktop group at AMD.

AMD launched its 4x4 platform for gamers in June, and plans to release its dual-core Athlon 64 X2 in the second half of 2006. In the longer term, the company will launch quad-core chips in 2007, and continue its support for multithreaded applications.

"The future is a multitasking and multithreaded world; we would even say a mega-tasking and mega-threaded world," Schwarzbach said.

Market watchers will soon have more data to make their choice between Intel and AMD chips. Intel is expected to lift an embargo on July 13, allowing PC vendors to release the results of their benchmarking studies between Conroe and AMD's Athlon 64 FX-62.


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