Intel's mobile strategy covers all bases

Hoping to get a head start on AMD, the chip giant offers three high-end, low cost, and low-power chips to notebook PC makers

Intel is chasing gigahertz-plus speeds for notebook PCs as it tries to capitalise on delays by Advanced Micro Devices.

The company plans to ship a trio of gigahertz-speed mobile Pentium III chips, starting early in the second quarter of 2001. Intel's three flavors of 1GHz mobile Pentium III chips will be paired with different manufacturing processes, chip sets, bus speeds, and cache sizes. The new chips are also likely to target slightly different market segments.

AMD is also looking to increase its share of the mobile market with its new mobile Athlon and Duron chips. However, it will not ship the chips this year. "Intel is really aggressive on the mobile side because [the market] is growing faster than the desktop," said Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst with Microdesign Resources, publisher of the Microprocessor Report.

Clock speeds need to keep pace with desktops, however, because if they fall behind, future growth could be limited, Krewell said.

While not every user needs a 1GHz notebook, consumers tend to buy as much performance as they can afford since high-powered notebooks can handle most applications while providing mobility.

Intel's everything-to-everyone approach to the mobile market addresses -- with the company's value-priced mobile Celeron -- consumers who might not need the latest, fastest chips. Intel is scheduled to ship 750MHz, 800MHz, 850MHz, and 900MHz mobile Celeron chips in the first, second, third, and fourth quarters of next year, sources said. Intel also plans to ship several low-power Pentium III chips for mini-notebooks.

Intel expects to reach the 1GHz barrier for notebooks a month or two later than originally expected, however. The chipmaker had planned to deliver the 1GHz mobile Pentium III in the first quarter of 2001, sources said. But the company recently revised its projections and now plans to introduce the first 1GHz mobile Pentium III early in the second quarter, sources said.

Similar to Intel's current 850MHz mobile Pentium III chip, the 1GHz chip will be based on the company's 0.18-micron manufacturing process and will offer SpeedStep Technology and a 100MHz bus, sources said. It will likely show up first in larger-size "desktop replacement" notebooks paired with Intel's recently announced 815EM mobile chipset. Intel will ship a 900MHz mobile Pentium III chip at the same time, sources said.

Also planned for the second quarter is a second, transitional version of the chip, based on a processor core codenamed Coppermine-T. Coppermine-T is a shrink, or reduction in size, of the Coppermine chip, with some characteristics of Intel's 0.18-micron and 0.13-micron manufacturing processes.

At any rate, the chip's most important feature is expected to be support for a faster 133MHz bus. It will also pair with a new mobile chip set, codenamed Almador-M. The chipset, similar to the desktop Almador, will feature a new input/output hub, an integrated graphics core, the 133MHz system bus, and support for 133MHz synchronous dynamic RAM. Intel also plans to ship 866MHz and 933MHz Coppermine-T mobile Pentium III chips.

Intel will likely launch its third 1GHz mobile Pentium III a little later in the second quarter, sources said. Unlike the other two, the chip will be based on a new Pentium III processor core, codenamed Tualatin, and it will likely be Intel's first production 0.13-micron chip.

The benefits of moving to the new 0.13-micron process or any transition from a larger to a smaller chip size include the ability to increases clock speed and reduce prices. However, when it comes to notebooks, the new chip's most important feature is its decreased power consumption.

Tualatin chips, aside from their 0.13-micron manufacturing process, feature support for a 133MHz system bus and will also sport 512KB of Level 2 cache.

A 933MHz Tualatin-based mobile Pentium III chip is scheduled to ship in the second quarter. Intel also plans to ship a 1.2GHz Tualatin-based mobile Pentium III chip in the third quarter, sources said.

Intel will likely face some new competition from AMD next year. AMD's K6-2+ mobile offering was successful, shipping in notebooks from companies such as Hewlett-Packard. But the chip topped out at 550MHz.

AMD is looking to increase its share of the mobile market with its new mobile Athlon and Duron chips. However, it will not ship the chips this year. The company recently "clarified" ship dates on the new processors, both based on AMD's Mustang processor core, which will be available later this year.

But the Mustang will yield workstation and server-oriented Athlon chips at first. Mobile chips will come later. When they do come, analysts expect AMD's chips, with their PowerNow battery-life-extending technology, to compete with Intel's mobile offerings. "It's going to take awhile for the design work," Krewell said. "They could announce it in Q4, but they couldn't ship until Q1."

Meanwhile, he said, "Intel spots an area, here, where it can pretty much dominate. Intel, I believe, wants to grab the dominant market share while AMD's in an area of weakness."

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