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Intel bids for rebound with quad-core chips

Faster and more power-efficient

Intel has launched a family of quad-core processors, hoping to take back its crumbling share of the server market and win users in the trendy gaming PC segment.

The Xeon 5300 and Core 2 Extreme QX6700 chips will deliver speedy performance for the science, entertainment and business sectors, Intel president Paul Otellini said today in a statement. The Xeon 5300 runs 50 percent faster while drawing the same amount of watts as Intel's own 'Woodcrest' Xeon 5100 chip, and the QX6700 is 80 percent faster than its predecessor, the X6800, Intel said.

Server vendors including Dell, HP and IBM have already announced systems using the chips, and others including Fujitsu, Rackable and SGI will join them soon. Gaming desktop vendors that plan to use the QX6700 include Alienware, Dell, Falcon Northwest, Gateway, Hypersonic PC Systems, Velocity Micro and Voodoo Computers.

There is nothing new about the concept of multicore chips – vendors including IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have long used that design in their chips for high-end servers and mainframes, and Azul Systems plans to release a 48-core processor in 2007. But computers that incorporate those chips run highly specialised software, making Intel the first major vendor to bring the multicore concept to smaller computers intended to run widely used commercial software.

When running multithreaded software, quad-core processors act like four chips in a single computer, solving complicated tasks fast by breaking them into smaller pieces. Compared to single or dual-core chips, they can make a big impact in servers and workstations, although average desktop and notebook PC users won't see a big difference unless they're running high-end video games or editing photos.

The chips support legacy software too, though users wouldn't see much improvement over dual-core chips. The video-editing software Premiere Pro from Adobe is one of the few desktop applications now using multithreaded software, with photo and audio editing platforms due out soon.

Likewise, most video games have not yet adopted multithreaded software design, so early customers will have just a few choices, such as the game Alan Wake from Remedy Entertainment. Video game vendors now planning multithreaded versions include Gas Powered Games, Epic Games, Valve and Ubisoft Entertainment, said Steve Smith, vice-president and director of operations for Intel's digital enterprise group.

Gateway will use Intel's QX6700 chips in its FX530 line of high-end desktops. "This will benefit gamers and digital creation enthusiasts most, thanks to the intense nature of these applications," said Gateway spokeswoman Kelly Odle.

Intel executives are counting on the new chips to help rescue the company from disappointing business results. The company has missed its earnings targets in recent quarters, and is still wrapping up a corporate reorganization that led to 10,500 layoffs and the sale of several business units.

AMD, meanwhile, plans to release its own 'Barcelona' quad-core Opteron server chip in mid-2007, aiming for buyers with high-memory systems and database environments running applications that can be multithreaded, said Vladimir Rozanovich, director of North America commercial business for AMD.

Before those users can take full advantage of quad-core technology, however, they must pair the new chips with an OS (operating system) capable of scheduling threads to different cores, Rozanovich said. Novell, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft are developing versions of their OSes that use the new approach.

Intel has launched four versions of the quad-core Xeon 5300 chip. The 1.60GHz, 80-watt E5310 sells for US$455; the 1.86GHz, 80- watt E5320 sells for $690; the 2.33GHz, 80-watt E5345 sells for $851, and the 2.66GHz, 120-watt X5355 sells for $1,172. Intel is charging $999 for its quad-core gaming chip, the Core 2 Extreme QX6700, running at 2.66MHz and drawing 130 watts. All prices are per chip in lots of 1,000 units.

Intel plans to launch two more quad-core Xeon chip designs in the first quarter of 2007, including one that draws just 50 watts for applications in ultra-dense data centers. The company will also launch a chip for mainstream desktops that quarter, calling it the Core 2 Quad.


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