Intel plans to cover all mobile PC bases

Intel Corp. is mapping out an end-of-decade strategy for building next-generation notebooks that will make the company's April 2 portable Pentium II rollout seem like small potatoes.

The series of initiatives, which fall under the umbrella code name Geyserville, include breakthroughs in power consumption and battery life, a high-performance platform code-named Colfax, new packaging and processors for mininotebooks and other thin systems, and integrated processors for low-cost Basic Mobile PCs, said sources close to Intel.

Intel's latest mobile CPU, Tillamook, extends battery life but adds very little speed.

The company's ambitious mobile efforts are driven in large part by its desire to make notebooks more appealing to buyers. Beyond simply boosting performance via higher clock speeds, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., wants to make the devices more usable and in a wider range of form factors and prices.

For example, the Geyserville initiatives aim to prolong battery life in the face of power-hungry microprocessors and ever-larger LCD displays. Geyserville enables notebooks to operate in one of three states: battery-powered, AC-powered and AC-powered when also docked in a docking station, sources said. As power consumption varies with each state, the system will automatically adjust the voltage for that state. The transitions between each state are managed by an ACPI (advanced configuration power interface) BIOS, sources said.

Intel is also working on advanced cooling technologies such as heat pipe plates to further reduce voltage, sources said.

Intel is working with notebook market leader Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. and possibly others on the technology, sources said. If all goes according to plan, the company hopes to deliver on the Geyserville initiatives in the first quarter of 1999, they said.

Intel will simplify development of high-end notebooks via Colfax, the code name for a motherboard platform that includes Pentium II processors, 440BX chip set, support for RDRAM (Rambus Dynamic RAM) 2x AGP (accelerated graphics port), the first 100MHz bus for portables and support for 1394, sources said.

The 100MHz bus will come to portables more than a year after it is made available on desktops and servers, which is slated for this quarter. On April 15, Intel will introduce Pentium II processors with the 440BX chip set, which is part of what enables the 100MHz bus. Colfax will enable OEMs to deliver the new technologies without having to spend their own time and money on development. The platform will be available in the second half of 1999, sources said.

Colfax comes as Intel develops similar server projects geared to helping OEMs build enterprise systems based on new processors more quickly and for less money.

Intel will finally address in the second half of this year the mini-notebook segment with new packaging options and lower-voltage processors, sources said. Its goal: to develop sub-4-watt microprocessors for these devices.

Intel will deliver in that time frame a reduced-voltage version of the 200MHz and 233MHz Pentium Processors with MMX Technology, sources said.

In the first half of 1999, the company will release Pentium II processors with 128KB of Level 2 cache, sources said. The forthcoming 333MHz Pentium II for portables will feature 256KB of cache, sources said.

Also in the first half of 1999, Intel will release new "thin and light" packaging that enables the latest technology to be used in the thinnest notebooks, sources said.

The lower-power, more tightly packaged chips will enable Intel to push into markets from which it has so far been absent, such as that for handheld devices. In addition, tiny form factor notebooks such as Toshiba's Libretto will be able to use the technology.

The market for sub 4-pound devices is getting more attention from vendors. Compaq Computer Corp. and IBM Personal Computer Co., for example, are both working on what each company terms a portable e-mail device with limited functionality.

At its April 2 event, Intel will announce that the first Pentium II processors for portables will be available in 233MHz and 266MHz clock speeds, sources said.

Intel officials declined to comment on unannounced products.