IDF: Intel enables the ultramobile

New chip may support Vista

Business analysts at Intel Corp.'s technology conference next week will focus on the company's powerful server chips, but industry blogs are showing more excitement over word that the company will launch a new platform for ultramobile PCs (UMPC).

Intel is set to announce at its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) conference starting Monday in Beijing that it will launch a new UMPC system called "McCaslin" using a "Stealey" microprocessor running at 600 MHz or 800 MHz and capable of supporting Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Vista operating system, according to several technology blogs.

Intel acknowledged it was working in that area but declined to confirm the details of those reports. "We will have an announcement this month on the 'rumored' product, [but] until then, I won't comment on speculation and rumors," Intel spokeswoman Connie Brown said in an e-mail.

However, Intel executives have been hinting at this move for months. At an IDF show in San Francisco last year, Intel sparked many headlines with the news it would collaborate with Microsoft's "Origami" software, which eventually reached markets as Samsung Electronics Co.'s Q1.

And in January, the company said it planned to release a smaller, more power-efficient UMPC that would allow devices like TabletKiosk LLC's EO series to offer full wireless Web access within 18 months, according to comments from Anand Chandrasekher, general manager of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group, at a wireless symposium in California.

The initiative may not produce quick profits for Intel. Critics say that vendors are trying to push UMPCs into an awkward market space called the "one-kilogram wasteland," with neither the long battery life of smart phones nor the fast processing power of laptop PCs.

Intel has already dipped a toe in these waters, providing a Pentium M processor for Vulcan Inc.'s FlipStart. But like the competing Samsung Q1, Sony Corp. UX and OQO Inc. Model 02, that product has seen limited sales to niche buyers.

Another challenge for Intel is that chip-making competitor Via Technologies Inc. has already won space on many existing UMPCs with its C7-M chip. Intel hopes to compete for those accounts with its McCaslin platform, one analyst said.

Regardless of which chip they use, UMPCs will probably not entice mainstream customers until their prices drop to a range of $400 to $600 around 2010, said Samir Bhavnani, research director at Current Analysis Inc. Without that alluring price, most consumers see UMPCs as "tweeners," too big to fit in pockets but too small to offer easy typing and productivity.

"The feedback on [first-generation] devices has ranged from slightly negative to slightly positive, but nobody has judged these devices to be totally awesome," Bhavnani said. Intel is hustling to reach the nascent market now because it hopes to succeed in second-generation UMPCs, he said.

Intel has already proved it can succeed with hardware bundles for mobile devices such as its Centrino product for notebook PCs. And Intel is expected to upgrade that product to the "Santa Rosa" Centrino platform in early May, adding better wireless noteworking and battery life. Likewise, on April 5, Intel announced the U7600 and U7500 ultralow-power versions of its Core 2 Duo processor, designed for small mininotebook, subnotebook and slate/tablet notebooks. Gateway Inc. is using the chips in its E-100M ultraportable PC.

Despite all the rumors generated by Intel's UMPC project, financial analysts at IDF will be paying more attention to the company's efforts to protect its market share in high-end PCs and servers from the pending launch of the quad-core "Barcelona" Opteron processor by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Intel may soon announce an improved line of quad-core 65-nanometer-process "Clovertown" chips by the third quarter of 2007 and a 45-nm scale "Harpertown" processor by the fourth quarter, according to a semiconductor industry report from Citigroup Research. On the notebook side, Intel will launch its "Santa Rosa" system on May 6, Citigroup said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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