In a surprise announcement, AMD says it plans to release a new line of Phenom tri-core processors code named "Toliman". Yes, you heard right, *3* cores. The new chips will be positioned to compete with dual-core CPUs, according to Simon Solotko, desktop brand manager at AMD:
In general, we will position this product above more-or-less all existing dual-core products in-market. And that will be borne out by many of the performance benefits which we'll demonstrate. I think that in general, it's a smart insertion point that has the opportunity, frankly, to help AMD in the space where, over the past twelve months, we've been relatively weak - which is high-end dual-core.
Solotko says the new chip will help "keep Intel honest" by putting pressure on their low-end quad-core machines. "If they have a low-frequency quad-core, and it gets beaten by an AMD Phenom triple-core, that's certainly not the kind of brand-level message that they would want." The announcement came one day in advance of the Intel Developer Forum.
AMD was mum about the exact pricing and clock frequencies, or even the design of the chip. One way they could be produced is to take quad-core CPUs and disable one core, perhaps because of a tiny flaw in the (now) unused portion that would otherwise render the chip useless. If this is done then it's conceivable that one of the three cores could operate faster than the others because of less contested cache access, creating some interesting balancing opportunities for low level software designers.
Availability was stated as Q1 2008, but don't be surprised if it comes out before then.