With the launch of its new dual-core Xeon processor today, previously codenamed Paxville, Intel has marked a new chapter in its history. It has been behind AMD in the server technology area for the last 18 months or so -- AMD got to the table first with both dual core and 64-bit technologies. Now the balance is redressed, and they can compete on equal terms.

So the new chip launch is a big deal for Intel. It needs to recoup server market share -- AMD's shot from eight to 11 per cent since its launch of the dual-core Opteron in April, according to Mercury Research. As a result, according to one analyst, Intel brought the Paxville launch forward -- it had originally been timetabled for the start of 2006.

The Santa Clara giant has also been keen to emphasise the number of independent hardware vendors it has lined up and ready with product, as result of its effort to ensure backwards platform compatibility for the new chip. In other words, according to Intel's Werner Schuler, it takes only a minor spin of the motherboard design to build a new, Paxville-ready server. As a result, the company trumpeted the readiness of HP, IBM, Dell and others to ship products housing the new chip.

Dual-core technology's benefits include the ability to enable data centre managers to pack more computing power into smaller spaces without major impact on their server cooling systems. Schuler told Techworld that Paxville added about 50 per cent more power than the single core chip it replaces, a performance figure that will clearly depend on your uses and how carefully you're prepared to tune your applications to suit the dual-core design.

Intel expects to ramp production quickly. Intel chief executive Paul Otellini said recently that Intel expects to ship more than 60 million dual-core processors for both PCs and servers by the end of 2006. and in the first quarter of 2006, Intel will start its roll-out of 65nm chips -- less heat and more features from the same silicon die, although Schuler wasn't saying what features those might be.

However, he did say that, in 2006, 85 per cent of Intel-based servers will be dual-core and, by 2007, all of them will be.