AMD lines up backers for mobile chip

More pressure for Intel as AMD goes after laptop market

Advanced Micro Devices will turn up the competitive heat on Intel in March, when major computer makers release notebooks containing a mobile version of AMD's Athlon processor.

Hewlett-Packard is expected to incorporate AMD's new mobile Athlon into its notebook PCs. The processor will be released around March 19, according to sources familiar with the chipmaker's plans. Compaq Computer is also working on an Athlon-based notebook.

The chip is expected to be launched at multiple clock speeds and will include at least a 900MHz version, sources said. The chip, originally due in the fourth quarter of 2000, is code-named Palomino and will mark the debut of Athlon in the notebook market.

Hewlett-Packard may be one of AMD's first mobile Athlon customers. More importantly for AMD, however, is that it plans to offer the new chip in both Pavilion notebooks for the consumer market and OmniBook notebooks for business users.

For years, AMD has sought -- often in vain -- to place its chips into business PCs, especially those sold to large corporations. Manufacturing problems, economic factors, and competitive reactions from Intel, however, have typically stopped AMD short of the goal line. Last year, for instance, the company said its ambitions to put an Athlon inside a corporate PC from a "top three" manufacturer would be delayed because of slowing demand.

Nonetheless, the company has begun to make progress. Both Micron Electronics and Gateway market Athlon desktops to small and medium-sized businesses while Compaq has featured notebooks, containing K6-2 processors, for small businesses. It is unclear whether HP's Athlon Omnibook will be marketed to small businesses, corporations or both. Either way, it will be targeted to the business market.

"AMD is increasingly positioning itself as an alternative to Intel, and in order to do that, it has to be a top-to-bottom supplier," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. "This establishes it in the performance notebook space. It also bolsters the image of AMD as an alternative" for corporate customers.

A deal with HP would also be appropriate from a historical perspective, as HP was one of the first North American notebook makers to offer AMD's K6-2+ chip in a notebook.

Despite its significance, the new mobile Athlon is not AMD's first member of the extended Athlon family to hit the mobile market. AMD released a mobile Duron chip earlier this month, but that chip is offered only in the NEC's LaVie U notebook in Japan. Duron chips are low-budget versions of Athlon.

AMD's mobile Athlon will benefit from the technological enhancements. The Palomino Athlons consume less power than the current desktop Athlons, which are notoriously power-hungry. Palomino also adds support for AMD's PowerNow technology. PowerNow allows a processor to reduce voltage and clock speed to further reduce power consumption while on battery power. PowerNow also offers variability, allowing multiple voltage and speeds, unlike Intel's SpeedStep technology, which simply reduces voltage and clock speed to a preset point.

Intel is expected to fight back, however, with new mobile Pentium III chips, including a 900MHz and a 1GHz, which will be announced on the same day, sources said. The Pentium III launch date is slated for late March, the sources said.

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