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Tuesday, December 26, 2006, 09:20 am PT (12:20 pm ET)

New Clovertown chip an option for Apple's 8-core Mac Pro

A new Xeon processor that quietly began shipping from Intel Corp. this month could find its way into a model of Apple Computer's forthcoming 8-core professional desktop systems.

The new 2.0GHz quad-core "Clovertown" chip has been officially dubbed the Xeon E5335 by Intel, filling the gap between the chipmaker's existing 2.33 GHz Xeon E5345 and 1.86 GHz Xeon E5320 offerings.

Although the chip had not been expected until February, Intel said it bumped up the release following some "customer demand" to have the product ready for IT purchases in January.

Like the 2.33GHz Xeon E5345 and the 2.66GHz Xeon E5355 introduced last month, the latest member of the Clovertown family features 8MB of L2 cache and operates on a 1333MHz front-side bus — making it drop-in compatible with Apple's existing Mac Pro professional desktop architecture.

Despite its slower clock speed, the 2.0GHz E5335 offers one striking advantage over its swifter cousins; it will cost only $690 per chip in lots of 1000, compared to the $851 for the 2.33GHz model and a whopping $1172 for the 2.66GHz variant.

The $690 price point is identical to that of Intel's previous generation 2.66GHz dual-core Xeon "Woodcrest" chip, which Apple elected to use for the standard $2499 configuration of its Mac Pro workstations that began shipping just a few months ago.

Through its online store, the Mac maker also allows shoppers to scale the speed of the Mac Pro. Customers can save $300 by dropping down to two 2.0GHz dual-core Woddcrest chips or fork over an extra $800 for two 3.0GHz models.

Intel's latest edition to the Clovertown family is significant in that it could finally help push Apple's first 8-core Mac systems to market.

People familiar with the subject have said the Cupertino, Calif.-based company holds plans to release of new version of its Mac Pro desktop that will pack two quad-core Xeon chips for a total of 8-cores of raw processing power.

Although development of those systems reportedly wrapped up several months ago, Apple has yet commission their release.