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Intel Releases Quad-Core Processors Early

Chip manufacturer introduces the world to the blazing speed of quad-core computing ahead of schedule.

Originally slated for January 2007, Intel today announced the availability of two dual-core processor families with the release of the Intel Xeon 5300 and Intel Core 2 Extreme.

The Core 2 Extreme processors are primarily for desktop clients and users that have multimedia editing or high-end gaming requirements, while the Xeons target server implementations. And judging from the early reviews, these two-socket chips represent the fastest silicon you can currently buy.

The release of these processors comes ahead of AMD who doesn’t expect to release their four-way quad-core (“4×4″) offering until mid-2007. Being first to market gives back some of the edge AMD won when they released dual-core processors ahead of Intel. AMD’s dual-core Opteron has been credited in helping the company make significant market gains in the last year.

Intel’s quad-core market advantage may have come at the expense of engineering time. One criticism of the Intel quad-core design, dubbed “Clovertown,” is that it is just two dual-core chips from the same die “sandwiched” together.

That engineering decision may be a moot point until AMD releases their own quad-core processor when you consider that Inte’s Core 2 chips under 2.66 GHz are pulling only 80 watts of power compared to the 120 watts of AMD’s latest dual-core Opteron. The balance of performance versus power is what has given the Opteron a leg up over Intel’s Itanium for some time and it looks as if the pendulum just swung the other way. And for multimedia processing, you are unlikely to find a faster chip out there than the Core 2 right now. Obviously not every application is going to be so well optimized but if you’re encoding video, Core 2 Extreme is a good bet.

Systems vendors have quickly lined up, betting that IT buyers are ready to make jump. IBM, HP, SGI, Apple and Dell have all announced the availability of servers and clients based on Intel’s new chips.

The one surprise here is Dell, who beat nearly everyone to the punch announcing they would offer Intel-based quad-core machines last week. Dell isn’t one to jump on trends early — it was only this year that the company began offering AMD-based clients and servers — and this timely buy-in could be considered either a technology endorsement, a way for Dell to shake things up after a couple of bad quarters, or both.

Users looking to capitalized on the super-fast chips shouldn’t expect any early discounts. The 2.66GHz Xeon X5355 will set you back $1172 while the 2.66GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6700 is priced at $999.

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