Intel has begun volume shipments of the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor, the company's first dual-core processor.

The chips are being shipped to hardware makers ahead of an official launch, which is expected to take place soon. "The launch will be in the immediate future," said Abhi Talwalkar, general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group. He said Intel's dual-core announcement was "imminent".

Intel and AMD are both close to launching dual-core processors based on the x86 instruction set. AMD is likely to be first, with the launch of its first dual-core Opteron processors expected on 21 April. The date marks the two-year anniversary of the introduction of Opteron, AMD's first 64-bit chip.

Talwalkar declined to comment on when exactly Intel plans to officially launch the Pentium Extreme Edition 840. But in a presentation, he showed off a Dimension XPS computer from Dell based on the chip and said that system would be available sometime this month. The Pentium Extreme Edition 840 has two processor cores, each running at 3.2GHz.

Talwalkar downplayed the possibility that AMD could beat Intel to market with a dual-core chip, saying that being first was not important. "This is not a race," he said.

Instead, the launch of these first dual-core x86 chips is the beginning of a significant transition within the industry, Talwalkar said, noting that Intel currently has 15 processors in development that are based on dual-core and multi-core technology. Following the launch of the Pentium Extreme Edition, Intel will introduce a second dual-core chip, called the Pentium D. That announcement is expected before the end of June.