Intel ups the core count

The megahertz wars are long gone but the ‘core wars’ are in full swing and show no sign of stopping.

Intel’s latest volley is the Xeon 7500 an eight-core superslab built around the Nehalem-EX   architecture for ‘expandable’ multi-socket servers. This is the highest number of cores that Intel has ever crammed onto a single die and follows the launch earlier this month of the Core i7-980 Extreme Edition six-core processor aimed at the high-end desktop market.

AMD is also prepping a six-core desktop processor codenamed Thuban and has already released the meaty 12 core Opteron 6100 processor – although this will contain a pair of six-core die strapped together.

That’s all well and good for the clustered server market but what about the mainstream?

Intel has already put single-core processors from its flagship Core family out to pasture with the exception of the Core 2 Solo ULV processor intended for ultra-thin laptops.

Dual cores are now the entry level for desktops and laptops built around the Core i3 while the Core i5 offers both dual-core and quad-core variants.

The 32nm Sandy Bridge microarchitecture which will succeed the current Westmere platform in early 2011 is expected to pack four cores as the default compared to two cores in today’s Westmere-class chips.

By the time the 22nm shrink of Sandy Bridge known as Ivy Bridge arrives in 2012 quad-core is tipped to be the entry-level for consumers with six and eight cores as the mid-range and premium configuration for consumers.