Today, Intel has begun shipping its first-ever dual-core Pentium 4 microprocessor, which features two processor cores in a single chip, providing users with much of the performance of a dual-processor configuration at a lower cost. The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 840--you gotta love the ultra-clear Intel naming conventions--are now shipping to PC makers, who will unveil dual-core systems at the chip's launch event, which should be any day now.

The dual-core Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 840 features two processors cores that each run at 3.2 GHz. Leading PC makers, such as Dell, have confirmed that they will ship PCs later this month based on the new chip. However, the Extreme Edition versions of the Pentium 4 are expensive, high-end chips, aimed at gaming enthusiasts. Intel will ship a more widely available dual-core chip, the Pentium D, by the end of June, the company says.

Both Intel and rival AMD are working on dual-core designs for their desktop and server chips, but the two companies are taking opposite approaches to shipping them. Intel will ship dual core versions of its desktop-oriented Pentium 4 chips before it preps dual-core Xeon processors for workstations and servers. AMD, meanwhile, is prepping dual-core versions of its server-oriented Opteron processors, but won't provide dual-core Athlon-64 chips for desktop PCs until 2006.