New notebooks save power

AMD, Intel and a host of computer manufacturers are about to unleash new technology in portables
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor on

AMD is nearing the release of a portable computer feature aimed at extending battery life by throttling back clock speed and voltage on its forthcoming K6-2+ and K6-III+ notebook chips.

Called PowerNow, the technology would benefit a portable computer user by granting an extra 30 to 50 percent of battery life, depending on how the technology is implemented, said Martin Booth, product marketing manager for mobile K6 at AMD.

The technology is similar to Intel's SpeedStep technology in that it seeks to extend battery life by reducing the amount of power the processor consumes, Booth explained. PowerNow does so by lowering clock speed and reducing the voltage of the processor. Intel, however, positions its SpeedStep not as a battery-saving tool, but as a feature that gives the consumer more clock speed for the same battery life.

AMD's PowerNow will have three operating states. They include a High Performance Mode, where the chip runs at full clock speed and voltage; a Battery Saver mode, where the chip runs at reduced clock speed and voltage; and an Intermediate Mode, which a PC maker can specify using BIOS settings.

When a notebook user pulls the power plug out of the wall, the notebook would, by default, go from High Performance mode to Battery Saver mode, automatically reducing the voltage and clock speed of the chip.

The Intermediate Mode, it is expected, has the potential to allow a PC to self-regulate the clock speed and voltage requirements of its processor. This would allow the notebook to essentially set its own speed while running on battery life.

AMD's new mobile K6-2+ and K6-III+ chips are expected to ship imminently. They should be available in late March or early April, sources said. The mobile K6-2+ is expected to begin at about 500MHz.

Both chips will be manufactured using AMD's 0.18-micron process, which provides advantages of higher clock speeds and lower power consumption over the current 0.25-micron process used to fabricate K6 chips. They will utilise the Super Socket 7 architecture, with its 100MHz bus. This is unchanged from the current K6 family. The chips will also have an enhanced version of AMD's 3D Now technology, likely taken from the company's Athlon desktop chip, which added several new instructions when it launched last year.

AMD will likely position the mobile K6-2+ chip, which it says will be competitive on price, against Intel's mobile Celeron. The K6-III+, which will deliver greater performance at a higher price, will be targeted at Intel's Pentium III.

AMD will separate its new chips by pricing, but also by the amount of cache each has. The K6-2+ will offer 128KB of integrated cache, while K6-III+ will have 256KB. The K6-III+ will also support tri-level cache, which allows the chip to utilise a third off-chip cache -- if one is present. Integrated cache is a new feature for the K6-2+. The current K6-2 mobile processor has 512KB of off-chip cache. Integrating cache increases performance and should give the chip an additional boost. The company plans to come out with a desktop version of the K6-2+ chip as well. However, there will be no K6-III+ chip for desktops; the Athlon chip has filled that role. Athlon now ranges from 550MHz to 1GHz (1,000MHz).

Intel announced its SpeedStep technology last January with 600MHz and 650MHz mobile Pentium III chips. SpeedStep throttles back clock speed from 100MHz to 150MHz, and reduces a Pentium III's core voltage from 1.65V to 1.35V when the notebook goes from alternating current to battery power.

Intel, for its part, is readying a 700MHz mobile Pentium III with SpeedStep technology. The chip, along with a 550MHz mobile Celeron processor, is due out in mid to late April, sources said. The new mobile Pentium III will offer SpeedStep, which will scale clock speed back from 100MHz to 150MHz while on battery power. It should appear in high-end notebooks.

The new mobile Celeron chips, starting with the 466MHz and 500MHz, moved from a 66MHz to a 100MHz bus. They are now manufactured on Intel's 0.18-micron process, and are the first Celeron chips to reach this process. However, they maintain their 128KB of integrated cache.

Intel, meanwhile, plans to offer a version of its SpeedStep technology for mini-notebooks in the second half of next year, reducing the core voltage of those chips from 1.35V to 1.1V, the company has said.

When it comes to notebooks based on AMD processors, Compaq Computer is one of the first major PC manufacturers to offer mobile K6-2-based machines. On Monday, the company will announce a new value notebook in its Prosignia line for small and medium businesses. Called Compaq Notebook 100, it will offer a 475MHz AMD K6-2 and a 12in. display. The notebook is designed to offer decent performance for a reasonable price, sources said.

Hewlett-Packard also offers AMD-based notebooks.

For innovative Intel-based notebooks, Acer America next month will ship a notebook it says breaks new ground. Acer's new TravelMate 600 notebook has eliminated the floppy drive. Instead, the notebook will come standard with a CD-RW drive for backing up or exchanging files. The CD-RW drive will act like a high-capacity floppy in that its CDs can store up to 640MB of data, the company said.

The new TravelMate will start at $2,499 (£1,549), with a 600MHz Pentium III processor, 13.3in. display, 64MB of RAM and a 9GB hard drive.

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