Intel powers up notebook chips

Four new Pentium III-M chips--running at speeds up to 1.13 GHz--promise to boost notebook performance while reducing power consumption. The Tualatin chips will be manufactured on a 0.13 micron process.

Intel introduced a new line of mobile processors Monday that will clear the way for notebooks to deliver more bang for their buck.

As expected, Intel launched its new mobile Pentium III-M processor at speeds of 866MHz, 933MHz, 1GHz, 1.06GHz and 1.13GHz.

The main change in the Pentium III-M, code-named Tualatin, is that the chips will be manufactured on a 0.13-micron process, which allows smaller circuits to be printed on the chip. Current Pentium III chips are built on a 0.18-micron process. Smaller circuits mean more processing power and less power consumption.

The Pentium III-M also includes a number of small tweaks that boost performance to go along with decreased power consumption.

Intel hopes the enhancements will encourage consumers to move up to new laptops, despite the slow PC market.

"The new chip launch comes in the middle of the back-to-school shopping season and the time when IT managers are purging their corporate budgets, so it should help to stimulate the notebook market," said IDC analyst Alan Promisel. The cost-saving advantages of 0.13-micron manufacturing should also mean lower prices for consumers, Promisel said.

Intel says the fastest of the new chips, the 1.13GHz, will offer a 25 percent to 45 percent performance boost from the current 1GHz mobile Pentium III, depending on the application being used. The increase comes from additional clock speed and 512KB of high-speed Level 2 cache memory--twice as much cache as in current Pentium IIIs. The Pentium III-M also sports a pre-fetch feature that predicts to an extent the data needed by the processor and retrieves it ahead of time, further increasing performance.

The new processors also include an improvement on the power-saving SpeedStep technology already found in Pentium chips for notebooks. Enhanced SpeedStep is a more aggressive and dynamic version of SpeedStep and automatically switches between maximum-performance mode and battery-optimized mode, depending on the needs of the application being run. The previous version of SpeedStep only went into power conservation mode when the notebook was unplugged from a power outlet.

"High performance is something that people will always want for new capabilities, such as playing video or wireless connectivity. But we can't add high performance at the expense of power consumption," said Frank Spindler, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group.

PC makers that are incorporating the new chip include Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sony, Gateway, Toshiba, Fujitsu, NEC and Acer.

The price in volume ranges from US$247 for the 866MHz chip to US$625 for the 1.13GHz version.

The 933MHz chip will cost US$278, the 1GHz model will be US$394, and the 1.06GHz chip will be priced at US$499.

A popular theme for the new notebooks will be wireless connectivity.

Dell launched on Monday the Latitude C810 and Inspiron 8100 with the 1.13GHz chip.

Starting at US$2,459, the Latitude C810 will offer a 1.13GHz Pentium III-M, a 15-inch display, 128MB of memory, 10GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive. Buyers can choose to add wireless technology to the "wireless ready" machine.

The Inspiron 8100, which starts at US$2,049, features a 15-inch display, 128MB of memory, 10GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive.

IBM announced a new ThinkPad T23 notebook with built-in 802.11 wireless support. The ThinkPad T23 ships with an integrated wireless antenna as standard fare. The entry-level model, priced at US$2,279, comes with an 866MHz Pentium III-M chip, a 13.3-inch display, a 15GB hard drive, 128MB of RAM and a CD-ROM drive. The new IBM notebooks will go on sale Tuesday.

"There's some debate about higher performance being the No 1 priority these days," Promisel said. "We'll see a push-back on performance and a higher degree of significance being placed on power savings as more and more consumers start living the mobile computing lifestyle, which will include power-hungry applications such as wireless connectivity."

Meanwhile, Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices will launch its new 1.1GHz and 1.2GHz Athlon 4 mobile processors this quarter. The chips should rival the performance of the new Pentium III-M chips, but relatively heavy power consumption will likely limit it to larger-sized notebooks, such as HP's Pavilion n5470.

Intel will launch two additional versions of the Pentium III-M, a low-power and an ultra-low-power version, later this year. These chips are designed to consume less power than the original Pentium III-M, which will allow them to fit into thin-and-light notebooks and mini-notebooks, respectively.

Spindler said the Pentium III-M consumes less power per megahertz than the previous generation of chips. At the same time, he noted, "processors only consume about 10 percent of the overall power of a notebook. Nothing is as aggressively power managed as the processor." Thus, the chipmaker is releasing chipsets to help improve the power management of other parts of a notebook, such as the hard drive and screen.

On Monday, Intel released the 830MP chipset for the Pentium III-M. The 830MP supports external graphics and costs US$37.50 in volume.

Later this year, Intel will launch the 830M with high-performance integrated graphics and the 830MG with integrated graphics for lower-end notebooks.

The new chipsets use PC-133 SDRAM, the company said, which is 33 percent faster than memory supported in the previous Intel 440BX chipset.

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