Comdex '99: Notebooks to get more juice

Notebook PCs users are about to get more juice - and in more ways than one

At Comdex/Fall here Wednesday, Advanced Micro Devices made public its plans to launch a new mobile processor in the first half of next year.

The chip, a mobile version of the company's K6-2+ chip, will debut at 500MHz and higher. Better yet, though, it will sport a new technology that reduces its power consumption when it's running on battery power.

The technology, code-named Gemini, emulates the functionality of Intel's Speedstep Technology, due early next year. Preliminary numbers from Gemini show a large increase in battery life. Numbers from AMD were not available. But informed sources put the increase at nearly 50 percent.

The Speedstep Technology from Intel, meanwhile, works by reducing the voltage of the chip, which in turn reduces its clock speed.Intel will introduce this feature in a 600MHz mobile Pentium III chip, due in the first quarter. In battery-optimised mode, however, it would run at 450MHz.

A succeeding version of the same chip, due later in the first quarter, will run at 650MHz on AC power and 500MHz on battery power, said Robert Jecmen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile and Handheld Products Group.

The technology reduces the mobile Pentium III's core voltage from 1.6 volts on AC power to 1.35 volts when on battery. The new mobile K6-2+ chip will be based on AMD's 0.18-micron manufacturing process, which reduces the amount of power consumed and increases clock speed performance versus the current .25-micron line of K6-2-P mobile chips.

The new K6-2+ mobile chip will also include 128KB of integrated cache, which will also help it to run faster. Gemini will reduce its core voltage from about 2.0 watts to 1.5 watts, AMD officials said. "We have the ability to be competitive (with Intel's mobile Pentium III)," said Gary Bixler, AMD's field marketing manager.

AMD will also enhance its mobile K6-III chip with the 0.18-micron process, creating a K6-III+ chip, with 256KB of integrated cache.

AMD, at Comdex for the first time revealed that it will also debut a mobile Athlon processor in the second half of next year. The chip, code-named Mustang, will utilise an enhanced processor core and copper interconnects, which improve performance over the aluminium interconnects now used by AMD and Intel.

An interconnect is a tiny piece of wire that connects transistors inside a chip. The distance of this wire -- at 0.18 microns -- is where the process technology gets its name. Intel's mobile Celeron processor is also due for a process change to 0.18 microns in the first half of next year.

At this time, it will also receive an increased bandwidth bus, moving up to 100MHz from the current 66MHz, Jecmen said. This version of the mobile Celeron should debut at 500MHz.

Intel also plans to offer a version of its Speedstep Technology for mini-notebooks in the second half of next year. This will reduce the core voltage of those chips from 1.35 volts to 1.1 volts, Jecmen said.