HP has released its first quad-core servers, just a few days after main rival IBM.

Three new models of its ProLiant rack servers, BladeSystem servers and HP Workstation computers will run on the quad-core Intel Xeon 5300 processor, an upgrade from the dual-core platform.

The launch follows others from Dell and IBM, all plugging Intel Xeon 5300 quad-cores into the industry standard x86 two-socket configuration. The upshot is a boost for Intel is its ongoing battle with rival AMD, whose quad-core processors aren't due until the middle of 2007.

"This is the major buying area in the market, the two-socket configuration, so this is significant. This is really the bulk of the market," said Gartner analyst John Enck.

A server or workstation running quad-core processors in a two-socket configuration takes up less space, can be more energy-efficient and work faster than dual-core processors in a four-socket configuration, said IDC analyst Jean Bozman. "There are certain workloads that will do pretty well with quad-core right off the bat," Bozman said.

Quad-core can handle high-performance computing tasks better than dual-core because it can manage highly parallel workloads in which a lot of different tasks are happening separately. Database is also easier because multiple components can be spread across the cores.

Quad-core processors also make it easier to virtualise a data centre by running multiple software applications on the same physical server as though on their own virtual server, making better use of server capacity.

But faster processors alone may not make IT buyers go for the quad-core models. A quad-core processor still needs to be matched by improved memory, a faster network connection and better storage.