Intel plans to launch the third model of its four-core processor in January, continuing its efforts to stay ahead of AMD on the next-generation processor family.

Intel will launch the Core 2 Quad chip for high-end desktop PCs during the CES trade show in Las Vegas the week of January 8, industry sources said. The new chip follows Intel's launch in November of its quad-core Xeon 5300 for servers and Core 2 Extreme QX6700 for gamers.

Quad-core chips can handle complex tasks faster than single-core chips by using multi-threaded software to break each job into smaller pieces, then computing them simultaneously. The chips are most popular with users of servers and workstations running programs like digital media creation and high-end gaming.

Wider focus

Intel plans to target this new chip at a broader segment of mainstream users, though it will still focus on processor-intensive, highly threaded programs such as entertainment, gaming and multimedia activities. In the long run, the company plans to use multi-core processors as the engines for its full array of technology platforms in the digital home, office, mobile and enterprise markets.

Intel is relying on the new design to help it regain momentum in the processor market, where it has lost valuable market share to AMD's dual-core Opteron and Athlon chips in recent months. In response, AMD has shown demonstration versions of its improved four-core "Barcelona" version of Opteron, but does not plan to sell the chip commercially until the second half of 2007.

The launch of the Core 2 Quad was expected, since Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini had discussed a January launch at the company's trade show in September. But Intel has not announced a release date, the clock speed, price or which hardware vendors plan to use the new microprocessor in PCs.