Intel Corp. expects to ship its first processor with four cores in early 2007, a top executive said on Friday, as the world's top chipmaker races to win back market share.
Intel also expects to sell 60 million dual-core chips this year, accounting for about a quarter of total processor sales, chief technology officer Justin Rattner told reporters.
"Clearly the momentum around multi-core is building," Rattner said.
The new chip, called Clovertown, bundles four processors in a single package, allowing computers to process data more quickly or run more applications at the same time, while using less power than a single-core design.
Clovertown is aimed at server computers that run corporate networks and host Web sites on the Internet. It will be sold in servers with sockets for two processors, meaning the computers could have as many as eight cores for crunching data.
Rattner, who showed off a computer running two of the first four Clovertown chips produced, declined to say whether all four cores are on a single die, or if Clovertown would use two dual-core chips stuck together.
Putting cores on the same die is more efficient since they can more easily exchange information and share resources.
Intel recently launched a chip with two cores on the same die, replacing one that was essentially two single-core chips stuck together and was viewed as a quick-fix attempt to catch up with rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. .
AMD's dual-core product has helped the company grab market share from Intel, especially in the market for servers. While Intel has about 85 percent of the overall PC market, its share of servers has slipped to about 75 percent or less, according to estimates from market research firms.
"As I look at Intel's product lineup versus AMD, it's clear that Intel is weakest in servers and strongest in notebooks. So from that standpoint I can see why Intel would want to create an impression that says they are closing that gap," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64.
Rattner said he envisioned a day when a single chip will have tens or even hundreds of cores, echoing the early era of the electronics industry when companies raced to see how many transistors they could squeeze on a chip.
"It's kind of like how many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?" Rattner said.
But he said there were significant challenges in breaking beyond eight or 16 cores, from how to provide enough system memory to how to write software to take advantage of the new features.