The chip maker is bringing out its latest server chips ahead of schedule, to the joy of companies like Dell. But can it overtake rival AMD?
Intel Corp. says two brains are better than one when it comes to crunching numbers and serving up Web pages.
At an event Monday in San Francisco, the chip maker unveiled its first dual-core Xeon server chip, code-named Paxville DP, months ahead of its original schedule, and officials said a dual-core version of its Xeon processor for servers with four or more chips will follow within 60 days.
Intel has put the bulk of its chip design efforts into engineering multicore processors, which package two or more processor cores inside one chip.
The results allow computer manufacturers to boost the performance of servers with two, four or more processors without large increases in price or power consumption.
The focus on dual-core chips also changes Intels focus from all-out speed to performance per watt, a measure it has said is more appropriate for businesses that maintain large numbers of servers.
The company, which has already been shipping dual-core Pentiums for the desktop, will add dual-core notebook chips in early 2006.
"Todays focus, and the focus of this year, has been on the transition to dual core," said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intels Server Platform Group.
The Paxville DP Xeon chip, with its twin processor cores running at 2.8GHz, is arriving early. Intel had originally promised to deliver the dual-core Xeons, which will come with up to 2MB of cache per core and an 800MHz front-side bus, in early 2006.
However, Intel pulled in the Paxville DP launch, due to what it says is the health of the new product. The move shaved several months off the lead Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. had with its dual-core Opteron server chip, which came out last April.
In response to a question at the press conference, Skaugen said Intel has leveled the playing field and will aggressively push dual-core technology in the future.
Click here to read about one reason AMD says it has an advantage over Intel.
"Were confident that were competitive and Q1 and Q2  look very promising," Skaugen said.
The first of the dual-core Xeon MP processors, called the Xeon Processor 7000, will arrive within 60 days, and will run at speeds up to 3GHz. Unlike the Paxville DP chip, which runs with the current E7520 chip set, the Xeon Processor 7000 will come with a new chip set, the E8501, and will support the existing E8500 chip set.
That will be refreshed next with the "Truland" platform, which will include the "Tulsa" processor. Later this year, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., will release the first of its dual-core Itanium processors, codenamed "Montecito," and early in the first quarter next year will release a refresh of the dual-core Xeon DP platform, code-named "Bensley."
That platform will include the "Dempsey" processor and "Blackford" chip set, and also will include other features designed to drive performance, such as Intels virtualization and management technologies.
A low-power processor aimed at systems such as blade servers, code-named "Sossaman," also is scheduled to come out in the first half of 2006. Sossaman will have a power envelope of 31 watts, with a 15 watt model for telecommunications devices, Skaugen said.
Processors code-named "Merom," "Conroe" and "Woodcrest," for notebooks, desktops and servers, respectively, are due in the second half of 2006. The first of Intels four-core processors will appear in 2007, he said.
"Our basic message is, all the products were developing ... are dual core or multi-core," Skaugen said.
By the end of 2006, Intel said, it expects that 85 percent of its Xeons shipped will be dual-core, with that number jumping to almost 100 percent by the end of 2007. For Pentium chips for PCs, those numbers look to be 70 percent by the end of 2006 and 90 percent by the end of 2007. Much of that will be driven by Intels transition to the 65-nanometer manufacturing process starting next year, Skaugen said.
In all, Intel has 15 dual- or multi-core projects underway, he said.
The chip maker is targeting the new dual-core Xeon DP chips at several areas, including traditional back-end applications, such as databases and business intelligence, as well as server consolidation projects, virtualization technologies and greater density in the data center.
The chip also features Demand-Based Switching, a technology that automatically powers down the processor when its not being fully utilized by the application. Intel officials said the new chip offers up to 51 percent performance improvement over the current processor.
Next Page: Whos adopting Xeon DP?
John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET News.com, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.