The Power of Four

Quad-Core Microprocessors in Half of All Mainstream PCs by Q4 2009
by: Jerry Liao

Presently employed exclusively in high-end PCs, quad-core microprocessor technology over the next two years is expected to spread rapidly to more-affordable computers, appearing in nearly half of all mainstream desktop systems by the end of 2009, according to data from iSuppli Corp.’s new Technology Penetration Database.

New microprocessors, such as Intel Corp.’s Core 2 Quad and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s upcoming quad-core processors, offer a high level of performance by combining four processor cores into a single package or silicon die. However, the high cost and limited availability of quad-core microprocessors has restricted their use to the high end of the PC market. Pricing for a quad-core microprocessor is as much as 170 percent higher than for a dual-core chip, according to iSuppli.

In the first quarter of 2007, only 16 percent of performance desktop PCs were based on quad-core microprocessors. By the fourth quarter of 2007, that number is expected to rise to 33 percent and then to 94 percent by the fourth quarter of 2009.

iSuppli defines performance desktop PCs as those having the latest and greatest technology and components and that are priced at $1,000 or more. The performance segment represents only 6 percent of total PC unit shipments.

Meanwhile, quad-core microprocessor technology has not begun to penetrate the mainstream desktop PC segment. iSuppli estimates that no mainstream desktop PCs will ship with quad-core microprocessors in the first half of 2007. However, quad-core penetration in mainstream desktop PCs will rise to 5 percent in the third quarter of 2007 and then to 7 percent by the fourth quarter. Penetration will continue to increase in the following months, hitting 18 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, and then reaching nearly half of the market, at 49 percent, in the fourth quarter of 2009. iSuppli defines mainstream desktop PCs as those having the most common specification and functionality available and that are priced between $500 and $1000. Mainstream PCs represented 42 percent of total desktop computer shipments in the first quarter.

The low-end value desktop PCs are not expected to make any use of quad-core microprocessor technology over the next two years, according to iSuppli. Value PCs are defined as systems intended to run rudimentary applications and priced in the $300 to $500 range. These systems represent the largest portion of the PC market, at 52 percent of worldwide unit shipments.

“Quad-core microprocessor technology is coming to the mainstream, and with it is coming capabilities that presently are reserved only for high-end systems,” said Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst, compute platforms, for iSuppli. “It will allow users to do more tasks simultaneously, but now, the more can be converting videos, burning DVDs, playing complex 3D games, or ripping music—all at once—and still have performance to spare. To put this into context, a quad-core-based PC is very similar to a quad microprocessor system from the pre-multicore era, such as a workstation or server, which would have been very high-end system, priced well in excess of $10,000. ”

While the desktop market is rapidly adopting quad-core technology, the notebook segment is lagging. iSuppli doesn’t expect any penetration of quad-core microprocessors in mainstream notebook PCs until the first quarter of 2009, when only 4 percent of systems will ship with the technology. By the fourth quarter, quad core will be in 11 percent of all mainstream notebook PCs shipped. Mainstream notebook PCs are systems that have the most common specification and functionality available and that are priced in the range of $750 to $2,000.

Data in this release was generated by iSuppli’s new report, called the PC Crystal Ball – Technology Penetration Database. The database features iSuppli’s forecasts for the penetration of specific technologies in PCs, encompassing both desktop and notebook platforms, on a quarterly basis. The database includes penetration forecasts for advanced technologies such as quad-core microprocessors, combined CPU and GPU microprocessors, wireless USB, WiMax, Trusted Platform Modules and HDMI, to list but a few of the 40-plus categories featured.

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