For all the fuss over quad-core chips, you'd think your own PC had them now. Of course, they don't, and they won't. Quad-core chips -- that is, four processors on one piece of silicon -- are aimed at servers.
The advantage of the quad-core design is that each processor can handle a different computing task without disturbing its silicon brethren, resulting in blazing-fast performance. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) has quad-core Xeon designs available now, though they're limited in a fundamental way: The quad-core Xeons use two dies, which means they're not much different than two dual-core chips stitched together.
Intel eventually plans native quad-core, of course. So does rival Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) . Last week, the upstart provided the first details of its forthcoming native quad-core server chip, code-named Barcelona.
Some media reports suggested problems with the demonstration, which didn't show much in the way of applications running via the prototype processor. But is that really a problem? In-Stat analyst Jim McGregor, who attended the demo at AMD's analyst meeting, wasn't overly impressed with the proceedings. But that didn't diminish his view of Barcelona's importance.
"...[It wasn't] much of a demonstration except for listening to a server hum," McGregor wrote in an email response to my questions. "It is, however, an impressive chip with four cores integrated into a single cohesive solution that is in the same power range as their current dual-core products."
For McGregor, who expressed some skepticism of AMD's quad-core plans to me in August, that means the chipmaker could once again set the pace at the highest, and most profitable, end of the server market. It's at least a good bet that market leaders IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) , and Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SNUW ) are giving the chip a good look. Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) , too, could be a buyer thanks to rapidly eroding margins and increased competitive pressure.
Interestingly, investors haven't much noticed. AMD shares are down roughly 4% since the Barcelona demonstration, because of price-fixing allegations that involve NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) and AMD's recently acquired ATI Technologies unit.
That's intriguing. As much as I've been down on AMD's stock in recent months, it bears mentioning that Barcelona could ship to enthusiastic server partners during the second quarter of 2007. Meanwhile, the stock seems reasonably priced to me, and nowhere near expensive for an innovator.
In short, the weather in Barcelona, Spain, may be wonderful this time of year (63 degrees as I write). But with quad-core innovations on the way, investors may enjoy the warm glow surrounding AMD's Sunnyvale, Calif. headquarters much more.
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Fool contributor Tim Beyers, ranked 873 out of 14,822 in Motley Fool CAPS, didn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is like chips for good salsa.