Intel ups ante in notebook race

Tualatin chips will deliver more bang for the buck, but will they encourage consumers to buy new laptops in a slow PC market?
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor and  Richard Shim, Contributor

A new line of mobile processors Intel plans to announce Monday will clear the way for notebooks that deliver more bang for the buck.

As previously reported, Intel will launch its new mobile Pentium III-M processor at speeds of 866MHz, 933MHz, 1GHz and 1.13GHz.

The chipmaker plans a launch event Monday morning in San Francisco to discuss the chips in detail.

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 come 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.

Monday's chip launch will include new notebook announcements from a host of PC makers, including Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sony. Gateway and Toshiba are expected to unveil Pentium III-M systems at a later date.

Prices for notebooks with the 1.13GHz chip will be around $1,800 to $2,500 (£1,300 to £1,700), depending on the configuration.

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

Dell will launch the new Latitude C810. Starting at $2,459, the notebook will offer a 1.13GHz Pentium III-M, a 15-inch display, and 128MB of SDRAM memory, along with 16MB of video memory. Buyers can choose to add wireless technology to the "wireless ready" machine.

IBM also is expected to announce a new ThinkPad T-series notebook with built-in 802.11 wireless support.

"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 that the original Pentium III-M, which will allow them to fit into thin-and-light notebooks and mini-notebooks, respectively.

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