Dual-core chips put two processing engines on the same slice of silicon, a way of letting chips do more work. The change is made possible by moves to more advanced manufacturing processes with smaller features that permit more circuitry to be squeezed into a given area.
AMD has established a foothold with its Opteron processors, bringing the competition Intel faces in desktop and laptop PCs to the server market as well. Opteron has won places in Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard servers, and in an IBM machine for the high-performance niche.
IBM began the charge to dual-core processors in 2001 with its Power4, while HP and Sun released dual-core versions of their competing chips this year. But AMD thinks it will be first when it comes to dual-core models of the x86 server chips, such as Xeon and Opteron, that are widely used.
"AMD expects to be the first to introduce dual-core" for x86, including models arriving in mid-2006 for workstations and for servers with one to eight chips, McGrath said. In addition, AMD will release a dual-core chip for desktop computers in the second half of 2005.
Intel, which sells the vast majority of x86 server chips despite AMD's inroads, plans to debut dual-core server, workstation and PC chips in 2005. The company professes no concern about AMD's competitive assertions.
"We don't see it as a race," Intel spokesman Otto Pijpker said.
AMD wasn't as restrained. "I think it's easy to say it's not a race if you're second," said Barry Crume, director of AMD's server and workstation business unit.
Today's single-core Opteron, built on a manufacturing process with 130-nanometer features, measures 194 square millimeters, Crume said. The dual-core model, built with a 90-nanometer process, will be within 5 percent of that size, he said.
McGrath also detailed the number of circuitry elements called transistors on the new chip. Single-core Opterons have 106 million transistors, while the dual-core model has 205 million transistors, he said.
Each core has its own 1MB section of high-speed cache memory, McGrath said.
The size of the performance increase going to the new processor depends on the speed of the two chips. Comparing a computer today with one that uses two chip sockets with 90-nanometer processors, performance increases between 30 percent and 55 percent on various benchmarks, McGrath said. The dual-core models run 600MHz to 1GHz slower than the single-core models to prevent overheating problems, he said.