Microprocessor upstart AMD has pledged to ship a dual-core version of its x64-compatible Athlon 64 chip by the end of 2005, turning up the heat on rival Intel. The announcement comes just a day after Intel released x64-compatible versions of the Pentium 4 microprocessor. Chips based on the x64 platform process data in 64-bit chunks, and can address far more memory than today's 32-bit x86-based designs. However, the retain full compatibility with x86 software.

"Since 1999, we’ve been developing a multi-core strategy in collaboration with our customers," said AMD corporate vice president Marty Seyer, who oversees the Computation Products Group of the company's Microprocessor Business Unit. "Because customer needs drive our innovations, customers will be able to adopt upcoming dual-core AMD64 processor-based systems without disrupting their existing infrastructure. We are committed to introducing straightforward technologies that deliver the best performance."

Dual core microprocessors feature two processor cores in a single chip, giving users most of the benefits and performance of two discrete microprocessors. Although modern operating systems such as Windows XP Professional are designed to support two processors, today, most PCs ship with just a single processor. Dual-core chips will help users economically gain better performance across the board while using such operating systems.

Previously, AMD had shown off dual-core versions of its high-end Opteron microprocessor, which is also x64-compatible. At Linux World Boston last week, the company demonstrated server systems utilizing four dual-core Opteron chips. Dual-core Opteron chips will ship by mid-2005, AMD says.

However, the dual-core Athlon 64 is potentially more significant, because those chips ship in huge volumes to consumers in mainstream PCs. AMD's dual core Athlon 64, code-named Toledo, will ship in the second half of 2005. However, that time period is roughly 4 to six months after Intel plans to release dual-core versions of the Pentium 4. Beating AMD to market is key for Intel: It faltered on x64 compatibility and only belatedly announced support for the technology a year ago. During the intervening time period, AMD has won accolades for its trend-setting work making the x86 platform compatible with 64-bit technology and ushering in the next major computer technology migration.