Intel has started selling its first dual-core processor, following in the footsteps of IBM, HP and Sun, but appearing to beat the official launch of main rival AMD.

The Pentium Extreme Edition 840 has two separate processing cores on a single chip, improving performance, and reducing power consumption and heat dissipation.

Intel has already shared many details about the chip as it raced AMD to be the "first" dual-core vendor. Server chip makers like IBM and Sun have been shipping dual-core chips for years, but the design concept is just now making its way down into PCs and low-end servers.

AMD will launch a dual-core version of its Opteron server processor on Thursday, and both Intel and AMD have moved up their launch schedules in an attempt to beat each other to the punch. However, while AMD's chips are known to already be with vendors, it is rumoured that Intel has still only sent out very small numbers of one version of its dual-core chip.

Each core in the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 will run at 3.2GHz, several steps slower than the 3.73GHz clock speed on the current single-core versions of the Pentium Extreme Edition chips. The chip will feature 1MB of Level 2 cache for each core and will likely cost at least $999, the price usually given to Intel's highest-performing Extreme Edition chip. The new 955X Express chipset will also accompany the launch of the Extreme Edition 840 processor.

Because of their high cost, Extreme Edition processors are dedicated to a small sector of the market, mainly gamers and PC enthusiasts. In May, Intel plans to launch the dual-core Pentium D for mainstream PC users alongside the 945G Express and 945P Express chipsets.

The two companies are taking different approaches to their dual-core launch. Intel believes by getting into the PC market first with dual-core chips, it can build upon its formidable manufacturing resources to extend its lead in the PC market.

AMD, however, thinks that servers are a more appropriate target for the extra performance provided by dual-core processors, Ruiz said Wednesday. Intel will not have a dual-core Xeon processor available until 2006 based on its current schedule, and AMD thinks it can make inroads into the server market with its dual-core advantage.