CES: Intel debuts three quad-core processors

Seeking to build on its lead over rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in the race to sell quad-core processors, Intel launched three quad-core processors on Monday.

One of the new chips, the Core 2 Quad, marks Intel’s first attempt to spread the new technology to a wider market than large data centers and research grids. The other two, both versions of the Quad-Core Xeon 3200, are designed for low-end, single-socket servers.

To garner attention for its launch during the busy International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week in Las Vegas, Intel had draped much of the city with advertising banners that hung from hotels, garages and airport baggage carousels.

This launch gives desktop users the same performance that once required a supercomputer, Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini said in a release.

The Core 2 Quad, designed for processing bottlenecks encountered with high-definition video entertainment and multimedia, is intended for Intel’s Viiv package for digital home PCs, according to the vendor. The most likely buyers will be high-performance desktop and gaming PC users who run chip-intensive applications like Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro 2.0, Windows Media Encoder, Snapstream and Win DVD.

Rival chip maker AMD insists that Intel has merely glued two dual-core chips together, and that AMD’s “Barcelona” four-core processor will perform much better when it launches later this year.

A strong impediment to the widespread adoption of quad-core chips is the scarcity of multi-threaded software than can take advantage of the four-way design. Indeed, Intel also pledged Monday that it’s actively working with software developers on enabling multi-threaded applications and next-generation games.

Intel is positioning the other new chips — the Quad-Core Xeon 3200 series — based on their power efficiency for entry-level server applications such as e-mail, the Web and file-and-print. Intel is selling those chips as a 2.13 GHz Quad-Core Xeon X3210 for US$690 and the 2.4 GHz Quad-Core Xeon X3220 for US$851, both priced per unit in lots of 1,000. The new 2.4GHz Core 2 Quad Q6600 is also selling for $851.

Apple currently uses Intel Core Duo, Core 2 Duo and dual-core Xeon processors in its Macintosh computers and Xserve server. Apple has not yet introduced any models that use the Core 2 Quad or the new Xeon processor models, but this week also marks the annual Macworld Expo event in San Francisco. Apple is expected to make new product announcements on Tuesday, when CEO Steve Jobs will deliver the show’s keynote address.

Peter Cohen contributed information used in this report

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