Blowing past quads, Intel launches 6-core chips

Chip maker adds to pressure on AMD, which is set to release its first 45nm chips later this year

The processor world has officially moved beyond quad-core.

Intel Monday unveiled the new Xeon 7400 series, which had been dubbed Dunnington. The server processors are available in dual-core and six-core versions, taking the market further out on the multi-core path.

"For servers, this is a big deal," said Jim McGregor, an analyst with at In-Stat. "The more we can consolidate resources the better. That's the critical point for being able to increase your performance while maintaining your environmental solution, your power constraints and everything else. If you can increase performance without increasing thermal and power, that's big progression. Servers always need more performance."

The new Xeon 7400 family includes seven 45-nanometer (nm) chips, according to Intel. The processors have up to six processing cores per chip and 16MB of shared cache memory. They also have frequencies up to 2.66 GHz and power levels down to 50 watts. The series includes a six-core, x86 compatible 65-watt chip, which translates to just under 11 watts per processor core.

"The big cache and six cores will give customers a nice bump in performance," said Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's digital enterprise group. "We're quite excited about it."

Moving beyond quad-core processors, which to date have been the high water mark in the semiconductor industry, is a major step -- one that keeps Intel well ahead of rival Advanced Micro Devices.

AMD, which has been getting its feet under itself after a rocky 2007, has shipped a lot of new products this year, including triple-core Phenom processors, along with quad-core Phenoms, graphics chips and chip sets. But AMD hasn't yet launched its 45nm processor -- and it's not slated to release its upcoming six-core Istanbul server processor until the second half of 2009 -- about a year after Intel's version ships.

"Dunnington looks like a very solid chip," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT. "It looks like the products based on Dunnington will offer enterprise customers a lot to smile about. Higher performance is a very good thing, especially among enterprises that have a great deal of money invested in their x86 infrastructures. There's a growing desire to consolidate those servers and workloads on as few a machines as possible."

Intel has not announced when it might release 6-core chips for the desktop and laptops.

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