Intel's first dual-core processor will be available from today from PC vendors such as Dell, Alienware and a few others.

The Pentium Extreme Edition 840 will become the first chip available from Intel that features two separate processing cores integrated on a single chip. PC processor companies are adopting multicore designs to improve performance, as the time-honoured method of improving clock speed and cache size appears to have run its course.

Dual-core chips can outperform single-core chips at slower clock speeds, which reduces power consumption and heat dissipation. The performance advantage is especially clear on PCs or servers that are running multiple processor-intensive applications.

Intel has already shared many details about this particular chip, as the company races AMD to be the "first" dual-core vendor. Server chip makers like IBM and Sun Microsystems have been shipping dual-core chips for years, but the design concept is just now making its way down into PCs and low-end servers.

For its part, AMD will launch a dual-core version of its Opteron server processor in three days’ time at an event in New York on Thursday. Both Intel and AMD appear to have moved up their launch schedules in an attempt to beat each other to the punch.

The two companies are taking different approaches to their dual-core launch. Intel believes by getting into the PC market first with dual-core chips, it can build upon its formidable manufacturing resources to extend its lead in the PC market. AMD will preview its dual-core Athlon 64 processors Thursday, and is expected to launch those chips around the middle of this year.

AMD, however, thinks that servers are a more appropriate target for the extra performance provided by dual-core processors. Intel will not have a dual-core Xeon processor available until 2006 based on its current schedule, and AMD thinks it can make inroads into the server market with its dual-core advantage.