Just days after Intel Corp. began shipping microprocessors with two computing engines instead of one, rival Advanced Micro Devices said it started shipping its own version of the technology.
AMD's new Opteron chips are targeted at servers and workstations used in businesses, while Intel is focusing its dual-core chips at desktop PC enthusiasts. Eventually, both chip makers plan to extend the technology across their product lines.
The moves mark an important shift in chip design. Instead of improving performance by ratcheting up clock speed and fine-tuning the processors, the dual-core approach involves cutting back the frequency but distributing the workload between two engines.
Because the two cores aren't operating as fast, they won't kick off as much heat as a faster, single-core chip. End users are expected to see benefits when they're running software optimized for multiple processors or cores, or multiple programs at the same time.
AMD said it's targeting business users with its first chips because most software that runs on servers and workstations is already multithreaded. Intel says optimized software does exist for high-end users, and it's working with developers to create more.
An intense rivalry has erupted as both tried to be the first to ship their products, though neither is the first to introduce dual-core processors — IBM pioneered the technology for servers in 2001.
Intel, AMD says, simply "bolted" or "glued" together two of its single-core chips to produce its first offering, the Pentium Extreme Edition 840, which sells for $999 when purchased in volume. PCs based on the technology typically cost more than $2,500.
AMD also says its chips were designed from the start for dual-core uses. The processors, for instance, have built-in memory controllers that bypass the data bottleneck that occurs with Intel's architecture. AMD's chips also can be added to existing systems without additional hardware upgrades, such as new motherboards, chipsets and cooling equipment.
"We believe there's going to be a rapid adoption to multicore and dual-core technologies in the months and quarters to come," said Ben Williams, vice president of AMD's Commercial Server and Workstation Business.
Intel, the world's largest chip maker, has said it will leave the debate over "design elegance" to others. During the company's earnings conference call Tuesday, Intel President Paul Otellini said the market speaks for itself.
"People pay a premium for Intel products and we are outselling our competition by a large measure," he said. "It's the best indicator."
On Thursday, AMD will be shipping three versions of dual-core Opteron processors for servers. Speeds range from 1.8 gigahertz to 2.2 GHz, with prices from $1,514 to $2,649. Another three will be launched in May, with prices ranging from $851 to $1,299.
On the desktop side, AMD said it will start shipping dual-core Athlon 64 chips in June. Speeds will range from 2.2 GHz to 2.4 GHz, with prices varying from $537 to $1,001.
Intel's Extreme Edition 840, which started shipping Monday, runs at 3.2 GHz.