Intel has confirmed that in future all its chips will be multi-core, while parting the kimono a little on future desktop, server and mobile processor plans.

In a briefing yesterday, VP for Intel's Desktop Platforms Group Stephen Smith said that the desktop-oriented "Smithfield", whose existence he publicly confirmed for the first time, is to be a 90nm process, dual-core processor. Smith would neither confirm nor deny on whether it would still be called a Pentium 4 - which hints that it may not be, especially since the slides he provided showed the next generation products as a separate model line from the Pentium 4. It is due out in 2005.

By 2006, Intel expects to have moved Smithfield's production to a 65nm process and be in the throes of designing multi-core desktop chips. However, it's not clear whether the dual-core chip will be a new design or simply a pair of existing P4 chips in one package.

Server chips are already moving towards dual-core and, said Smith, by the end of 2006, Intel expects that a full 85 per cent of server processor shipments will consist of dual-core products, while desktop and mobile chips will only have reached 70 per cent. Considering only 65 per cent of its shipments this year consist of its hyper-threaded technology (HT), theses are aggressive plans.

Smith however took pains to highlight Intel's considerable global R&D and production facilities, saying that these would be brought to bear on the problem. According to Smith, the upshot wil be performance improvements - at a purely processor level of course - of up to 10-fold over the next four years. He said that, had Intel stuck with HT and boosted the speed of the chips, performance improvements would only be three-fold.

"With dual-core we can assign increased hardware support for each thread and get stronger benefit for threaded execution compared to hyper-threading," he said. "With HT the hardware could just cope - going multi-core means going onto further cores over time - four or more."

Smith also said that Smithfield would fit into the same "thermal envelope" as today's Prescott chips. Decoding Intel-speak, this means they won't use much more power and therefore generate much more heat.