Tests show P4 desktop chip works for notebooks

Intel says laptop makers should wait for the mobile Pentium 4, but ZDNet tests back up notebook makers' claims that the desktop chip can make the transition
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Despite Intel's protests, it appears that a Pentium 4 desktop processor can be effectively used in a laptop computer -- which, if done correctly, could save some buyers hundreds of pounds.

Several vendors are already selling laptops based on the Pentium 4, even though the mobile version of the chip won't be announced until next month, as a way of meeting pent-up demand. In some ways the strategy is to Intel's benefit, since AMD's mobile Athlon processors currently have a significant performance advantage over Intel's current notebook line-up.

Intel warns against the practice, but a Pentium 4 laptop tested by ZDNet UK gave a surprisingly good showing: it doesn't overheat, has good battery life and, most importantly, performs well. (Read the review here.)

The main downside to the Hi-Grade Ultinote M6400 is its bulk, an effect of the cooling systems needed to keep the chip from overheating. But weight and bulk may not be a major concern for buyers looking for a desktop-replacement laptop, and if they can save several hundred pounds by using the less-expensive chip, it may be worth the trade-off.

"If what you want to do is take it home from the office or to make a presentation, plug it into the mains and start working, for that it's very good value proposition," said Hi-Grade marketing director Demetre Cheras.

Intel's argument against the use of desktop Pentium 4s in laptops rests largely on the fact that additional design work is needed to ensure they work properly with the laptop infrastructure. "There is a benefit and a risk to it, and the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have to deal with those issues," said an Intel spokesman. "Intel did not design the processor for those requirements, so the manufacturers have to do that work for us."

However, tests found it is possible to make the chip run properly in a notebook, without performance degradation. Continuous testing didn't show any degradation, and the laptop didn't grow overly warm or generate excessive fan noise.

Intel also argues that consumers should be careful about giving up the various battery-saving technologies it builds into mobile chips, such as SpeedStep, which reduces chip speed when it the power isn't needed. Tests found, however, that the 1.8GHz-based laptop delivered creditable battery life.

What's more, the Hi-Grade system is priced at £1,339 ex VAT, compared with £2,000 for a more conventional system with similar performance. If other manufacturers can duplicate Hi-Grade's technical success and its low price, buyers may be tempted.

To find out more about the computers and hardware that these chips are being used in, see ZDNet UK's Hardware News Section.

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