Intel has released its latest chip and chipset - the Pentium D and 945.

Systems featuring the dual-core processor as well as a number of new performance-boosting technologies will be available very soon.

Technically, the Pentium D is Intel's second dual-core processor, following the introduction of the Pentium Extreme Edition in April. But the new Pentium D 840, 830 and 820 chips are much less expensive than the Pentium Extreme Edition, and will introduce dual-core technology to far more users than the Extreme Edition chip.

"This is the first dual-core that will make a real impact on the market place," said Gerald Holzhammer, VP of Intel's Digital Home Group and general manager of the consumer client group.

The 945G chipset brings several new technologies, including virtualisation, system management and high-definition audio to both consumer and business users.

2004 was a turning point in Intel's recent history. The company made two crucial decisions about its product design strategies, opting to accelerate the development of dual-core processors and focus on integrating technology that boosts overall system performance without relying on increases to clock speed or cache size.

A four-year ride up the clock speed ladder allowed Intel to reach new performance heights, but as the Pentium 4 surged past 3GHz, it has become harder and harder to reach the next speed grade due to overheating. Likewise, there's only so much cache memory a chip maker can add before the processor becomes too large to be manufactured efficiently. Building two processor cores on to a single chip will allow Intel to increase performance without having to worry about melting the inside of a PC chassis.

But the company also wants to improve the user experience without having to rely solely on processor performance. This is Intel's "platform" strategy, or its plans for building new technologies into its chipsets. The company started with hyperthreading technology several years ago, and introduced 64-bit extensions to the desktop earlier this year through chipsets.

Now IT managers will be able to remotely manage PCs even if they are shut down through Intel Active Management Technology (AMT), one component of the 945G chipset. AMT allows administrators to download software updates to a PC or take inventory of their network through a protected part of the chipset and processor that is transparent to the user.

Business users can also take advantage of virtualisation technology to run multiple operating systems on a single PC, or create partitions on a system. These capabilities are available on servers with software, but the performance of that software is dramatically enhanced by hardware dedicated to virtualisation.

However, the virtualisation technology will not be available until later this year, Bryant said. Users will not need to purchase new hardware in order to take advantage of it, he said, implying that the capability is built into the 945 chipsets but not yet activated.