Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp. are bringing dual-core processing to the x86 arena next year with new and enhanced chips.
Dual-core chips, which have two processing cores on a single piece of silicon, allow users almost double the processing power in the same amount of space.
Chip Burke, network engineer for MedCost Recovery Systems Inc., said dual-core processing makes sense as long as the added power can be obtained at the right price.
"If its cost-effective, it sounds like a good idea," said Burke, whose Columbus, Ohio, company runs one-, two- and four-way systems from Dell Inc. "Its a nice upgrade plan if I can keep what I have and not have to buy something new."
AMD has completed the design work on its dual-core 64-bit processors and will begin rolling them out in the middle of next year, company officials said Monday.
The Sunnyvale, Calif., company will release the dual-core Opteron processor for servers and workstations in mid-2005, and a dual-core Athlon64 for high-end desktops and notebooks in the second half of the year, Chief Technology Officer Fred Weber said. AMD updated its public roadmap to reflect the new additions.
"This is a major milestone," Weber said. "The coming of multiprocessing [in the x86 world] is a pretty big event."
IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. already offer dual-core processing in their RISC-based processor architectures, Power and SPARC, respectively. It will arrive in the x86 space next year, not only with AMDs AMD64 platform, but also in Intel Corp.s 32-bit Xeon chips by the end of the year.
Intel officials announced last month that they had accelerated their dual-core plans for the processors, a move that prompted the chip maker to cancel plans for its next-generation Pentium 4 chip, code-named Tejas, and a Xeon processor for low-end servers, code-named Jayhawk.
In addition, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., is planning to introduce dual-core processing in its 64-bit Itanium architecture in mid-2005 with the introduction of Montecito.
Intel spokesman Howard High declined to confirm if any of Intels dual-core components were taped out. "AMD can do their claims when they want," High said. "Instead of worrying when our products are taping out, well concentrate on being first to market."
One analyst, however, expects AMD to beat Intel to market with new cores. "I think AMD will be first, followed by Intel," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight64 in Saratoga, Calif.
Dual-core processors enable users to get almost double the processing power in the same amount of space. Weber said that AMD engineers had been planning for dual-core processing since they first began designing the AMD64 chips, which were released last year.
Given that, the new dual-core processors will be compatible with their single-core predecessors, offering the same socket on the motherboard, the same programming and the same software model, he said. That would make it possible for a user to turn a two-way Opteron server into essentially a four-way system simply by replacing the single-core processors with the dual-core chips, Weber said.
Completing the design phase for the dual-core processor means that AMD engineers can now put them onto silicon and begin producing them, although a few tweaks are routinely made at that stage before they are put out for general availability, he said.
AMDs new dual-core chips are code-named "Egypt," a 800-class processor for 1 to 8-way machines; "Italy," a 200-class processor for 2-way machines, and "Denmark," designed for machines containing a single processor package. "Toledo" will be the name of the dual-core chip replacing the Athlon FX in desktop PCs.
As the dual-core microprocessors enter the market, companies like Intel and AMD will likely begin tweaking single-processor cores for low power and reduced cost, analyst Brookwood predicted. Last week, AMD announced the Sempron chip, which the company will begin shipping in the second half of 2004 for the budget PC market.
"Without giving exact details, we can confirm that there will be low-power and full-power (dual-core) parts in the market," Opteron product manager Pat Patla said. AMD is still working with customers to determine if the dual-core parts will replace AMDs single-core processors, or if there will be a lengthier transition, he said.
Meanwhile, AMDs 64-bit strategy has caused a ripple in the industry. The AMD64 processor, with its x86 architecture and 64-bit extensions, enables the processors to run 64-bit and 32-bit software equally well.
AMD also updated its mobile AMD64 roadmap on Monday with additional single-processor cores. AMD will introduce "Newark," "Lancaster," and "Georgetown" in the first half of 2005. Georgetown and Sonora will both be optimized for the low-cost mobile computing market, with Sonora apparently optimized for the lowest-power segments.
Intel had been pushing Itanium as the key choice for 64-bit computing, but announced earlier this year that 32-bit Xeon processors will soon be offering 64-bit extensions. The first generation of those Xeon processors will be Nocona, due later this month. Later this year, Pentium processors with the extensions also will become available.
Three of the top four systems makers—Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and Sun—have rolled out Opteron-based servers and workstations. Dell Inc. is the only top-tier OEM that has yet to offer the AMD chip in its systems.
Editors Note: This story was updated with contributions from eWEEK.com Reporter Mark Hachman, including roadmap details and comments from analysts, AMDs Patla and an Intel spokesman.