Intel thinks small in mobile spotlight

SAN JOSE -- Looking to fend off hungry competitors Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Transmeta Corp. in the mobile market, Intel Corp. is emphasizing its mobile processor arsenal here at its developers forum.

Among the products the chip leader demonstrated at the conference Tuesday were vendor notebooks with 1-GHz processors, a new low-power chip and the first preproduction notebook using its next chip, code-named Tualatin.

Intel executives showed off an attractive blue notebook, in the category it refers to as thin-and-light, from WinBook. It features Intel's first mobile 1-GHz chips. The new processor, and the notebooks it will power, is due to launch before midyear. Both AMD and Transmeta are expected to launch new mobile processors in coming months.

Intel also launched on Tuesday its low-voltage mobile PIII with SpeedStep. Different from the ultralow-power chip for subnotebooks announced in January, the 700-MHz chip is faster but uses slightly more power. Intel, which is targeting the product at mininotebook models, says the chip still uses less than 1 watt of power during average use in its 500-MHz battery-optimized mode.

Tualatin: Think small, integrated

While the 1-GHz notebooks draw an emotional response similar to the first 1-GHz desktops and the new low-power 700-MHz chip is impressive, the Tualatin demonstration is more significant from a technology standpoint.

Tualatin is the first Intel chip ever to use a 0.13-micron manufacturing process; current mobile and desktop processors are made with a 0.18-micron process, said Frank Spindler, general manager of Intel's mobile platforms group. The new process means each chip has more, smaller and faster transistors, which increases performance while requiring less power. The Dell Computer Corp. notebook on display here is running at faster than 1 GHz, according to Intel.

And Tualatin represents more than just a process change; it's actually a new processor core, Spindler said.

Intel isn't saying much about the new chip except that its technology comes from the existing mobile PIII. However, Spindler promised "significant new features." The company isn't yet revealing the chip's real name.

Spindler is quick to point out that Tualatin doesn't represent Intel's move to the Pentium 4 architecture in the mobile segment. That won't happen this year, he said.

Intel will launch its Tualatin chips starting in the second half of this year and expects to offer them first in mobile products. It will be in all segments by year's end, including notebooks that Intel classifies as full-size, thin-and-light, mininotebook and subnotebook, Spindler said.

A desktop version of Tualatin is also planned for release sometime this year, according to Intel sources.

Chip set supports notebooks

To accommodate Tualatin, Intel is preparing a new chip set called the 830M. Details are scarce, but Spindler said the product will use synchronous dynamic RAM and will soon replace the mainstream 440BX chip set that has dominated the mobile market since its introduction with the Pentium II in 1998. Intel's 440MX chip set will continue to cater to the mininotebook and subnotebook markets, he said.

During questioning at the event, Spindler hinted that the 830M could integrate more processing components, similar to the 815EM chip set, which includes integrated graphics. Increased integration helps cut manufacturing cost and can decrease power consumption, he said.

Despite Intel's continuing work to lower the power consumption of its processors and chip sets, Spindler noted that chips make up only about 10% of the battery drain in a notebook.

To keep batteries running significantly longer, manufacturers of other notebook components must also lower power consumption, he said. LCDs use the most power of any component, Spindler said.

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