Intel is set to launch two new desktop processors that come with hardware support for virtualisation technologies - although users won't be able to take advantage of the technology for some time.

The new single-core Intel Pentium 4 672 and 662 processors are almost identical to the 670 and 660 Pentium 4 processors in Intel's product lineup, except the new chips have transistors dedicated to improving the performance of virtualisation software, said Chad Taggard, director of advanced technologies marketing with Intel.

Virtualisation technology allows PC and server users to run multiple operating environments on a single processor, allowing one machine to be carved into several "virtual" computers.

For example, users could access corporate applications in one operating environment, while using a different one for personal applications. IT managers could exercise tight control over corporate applications and prevent viruses or malware from moving from the personal environment to the rest of the company's network.

This has been possible for a while with software from companies like VMware, XenSource, but hardware virtualisation allows that software to run more efficiently. However, in order to take advantage of the extra performance boost from Intel's virtualisation technology, the software companies have to build support for that capability into their products, Taggard said. That process is underway, but the updated software products aren't expected to become available until around the beginning of next year, he said.

Early next year, Intel will bring the hardware virtualisation technology into its dual-core Pentium D processors, Taggard said. Around the same time Intel will also introduce virtualisation into its Xeon server processors. AMD is also planning to introduce virtualization technology for server and desktop processors next year.

Lenovo Group, Acer, Founder Group, and Tsinghua Tongfang Computer System Business Group plan to announce support for the new chips later today.

The Pentium 4 672 runs at 3.8GHz, features 2M bytes of cache memory and costs US$605, just like the 670 processor. The 662 processor costs $401, the same price as the 660 processor.