Intel announces new chips for ultrathin laptops, processors for tablets coming next week

Intel announced a broader line of processors for ultra-thin laptops, a category that has gotten off to a slow start, but is now expected to grow quickly. A separate family of processors specifically for tablets will be announced at Computex next week.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Intel announced this morning a broader line of processors for ultrathin laptops, a category that has gotten off to a slow-than-expected start, but is now expected to grow quickly. The new ultra low-voltage chips, which range from Celerons all the way up to Core i7, will show up primarily in thin notebooks with 12- and 13-inch displays starting in June. During the Webcast to announce the new ultrathin processors, Mooly Eden, the vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, said the company would also announce a separate family of processors designed specifically for tablets at the Computex tradeshow in Taiwan next week.

Gallery: Intel promises ultra-thin laptops

Eden introduced the new ultrathin line by discussing how the client PC has evolved from the big, beige and boring box to PCs that come in all shapes and sizes. In response, Intel has been fine-tuning its processors to meet the needs of these different categories. "The way that we design microprocessors today enables us to optimize the solution for each one of those segments," he said. "The ultrathin microprocessor which fits into the ultrathin solution is addressing all of these areas--better battery life, better performance. It's going to be lighter, it's going to be smaller, and definitely it will look better."

Intel already sells a handful of low-voltage and ultra low-voltage dual-core processors based on the 32nm process using high-k and metal gates, which it introduced in January. But these first 32nm ULV processors were relatively high-priced ranging from the $241 Core i5-540Um to the $305 Core i7-640UM. Now the same technology will be available at a range of prices and in Core i3, Pentium and Celeron versions as well. The entry-level 1.06GHz Celeron U3400 is priced at $134.

Here's the new lineup:

  • 1.33GHz Core i7-660UM (2 cores; 4 threads; 4MB cache)
  • 1.2GHz Core i5-540UM (2 cores; 4 threads; 4MB cache)
  • 1.2GHz Core i5-430UM (2 cores; 4 threads; 3MB cache)
  • 1.2GHz Core i3-330UM (2 cores; 4 threads; 3MB cache)
  • 1.2GHz Pentium U5400 (2 cores; 2 threads; 3MB cache)
  • 1.06GHz Celeron U3400 (2 cores; 2 threads; 2MB cache)

All ULV processors now support the new features in Westmere such as Turbo Boost, which Eden claimed works particularly well in ultrathins. He said the 1.33GHz Core i7-660UM will be capable of operating at speeds as high as 2.4GHz when working on certain applications. Overall the 32nm ULV processors deliver 35 to 40 percent better performance and double the graphics performance of the previous generation, which Intel said will make a noticeable difference on real-world applications such as Microsoft Office 2010 and Google's Picasa.

Intel is defining the ultrathin category broadly including laptops with anything from 7- to 13-inch displays, which would overlap with netbooks. (Eden even mentioned that a couple 15-inch models may use these processors.) But the chips are really designed for 12- and 13-inch laptops that measure less than an inch thick. Eden said the design could support laptops as thin as 0.75 inches, but these would be more expensive because they would require special cooling mechanisms. With the lower prices, these ULV chips should find their way into more laptops, and Intel said it already has 40 "design wins" including systems from Asus, Gateway, Lenovo and MSI. Interestingly HP and Dell weren't on the list, though Eden said he expected that eventually all major computer companies would offer laptops with its ULV processors.

With Intel set to release a more powerful dual-core version of Atom, it would seem like there would be a lot of overlap here, especially on laptops with 10- or 11.6-inch displays, which could easily use either solution. But Eden said that while Intel was making Atom more powerful, it was simultaneously increasing the performance of the Core family, and the gap between the two would remain significant and anyone who uses an ultraportable for heavy multi-tasking or content creation will want an ultrathin laptop rather than a netbook.

The real competition here isn't Atom. Rather it is AMD's recently-announced ultrathin platform, code-named Nile, which includes lower-priced 45nm Neo dual-core and single-core processors, that is the direct competitor. AMD claims to have 26 designs wins for Nile, including systems from HP and Acer, and it will be interesting to see how the two platforms compare in terms of performance and battery life.

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