For Intel 2007 is the year of the quad

I got a little ahead of myself expecting at least one additional Core 2 Quad variant to arrive immediately
Written by John G. Spooner, Contributor

Intel’s mainstream quad-core chip, the 2.4GHz Core 2 Quad Q6600, arrived yesterday with slightly less fanfare than I had expected. I guessed last Friday that the chipmaker would offer the Q6600 chip along with one or two additional quad-core processors for use in mainstream desktops. Intel often delivers new chips in twos and threes. Intel also delivered its quad-core Xeon 3200 series for single socket-servers. Xeon X3220 and X3210, run at speeds of 2.4GHz and 2.13GHz, respectively. But I got a little ahead of myself expecting at least one additional Core 2 Quad variant to arrive immediately. I stand by the prediction that at least one lower-speed, lower-priced Core 2 Quad will arrive in the future. We’ll have to stay tuned.

For now, Intel is keeping the Core 2 Quad at the high-end of its mainstream desktop processor range. At a list price of $851, the Q6600 sits directly in between Intel’s two Core 2 Extreme chips—the quad core QX6700 and the dual core X6800—both of which list for  $999, and its high-end Core 2 Duo E6700 at $531. I think this is wise, based on where the market is for quad-core desktop PCs at the moment. It’s just not that big. Intel says in its press release that the Core 2 Quad chip will provide the most benefit for processor-intensive, threaded applications such as Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0, Windows Media Encoder, Snapstream and Win DVD. It also highlights the quad-chips’ multitasking ability. What this means, in the real world, is a quad-chip is more likely to allow you to set a couple of tasks running and switch to another without noticing your system slowing down. In practice, I would argue how noticeable a given multitasking load is will depend on the type of tasks running and the speed of each core.

I've said before that until software starts to catch up, a dual-core chip will probably be able to satisfy most people’s needs. However, I can’t help thinking that, if I were in charge of marketing at Intel, I’d be out pushing mainstream quad-core as hard as I could and as fast as I could, right now. I would make the effort to capitalize on the advantages—including major performance increases for specific applications and this tangible gain in multitasking capability—I could claim versus my competitor. AMD's 4x4 or Quad FX Platform is an option in the interim for some users of course. But, in keeping the subject to the mainstream market, AMD hasn't yet said when it's quad-core desktop chips will hit the market. However, reports say to expect it during the third quarter. I believe Advanced Micro Devices will roll out its quad-core processors as quickly as it can. It will start with its Barcelona Opteron chip, slated to arrive at mid-year.

That gives Intel will about nine months to tout its quad-core desktop chips. Meanwhile, the Core 2 Quad’s arrival gives Intel the opportunity to drop prices on its Core 2 Duo processors to further establish them in mainstream and the upper end of the value segment. Although from a profitability perspective, it behooves Intel not to cut prices too quickly.

Ultimately, I believe this is how Intel’s strategy will unfold over the course of 2007:  Core 2 Quad will make its way into the upper mainstream, arriving in desktops priced in the $1,000 range before the end of the year. Core 2 Duo price cuts could make that chip available in desktops priced as low as $600. (Or possibly even at little bit lower.) Me? I would make it happen as quickly as possible.

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