Intel: Steeley chip means lower ultramobile prices

Few people today are buying UMPCs, but a new chip and lower prices could help by early 2008.

SAN FRANCISCO--The price of those ultramobile PCs is going to come way down, in part because of an upcoming mobile chip code-named Steeley.

Ultramobile PCs, or UMPCs will likely sell for around $500 to $700 in early 2008, said Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president of the ultra mobility group at Intel.

The devices currently sell for more than $1,000, and sales have been tepid.

Intel's 80-core chips

One of the big differences between today's UMPCs, such as Samsung's Origami device, and the ones coming in the future lies in their electronics. Currently, the devices come with low-power Intel notebook chips.

In the future, the UMPCs will be built around Steeley, an ultra-low-power chip coming from Intel in late 2007. While the chip will run Windows and Linux software like standard Intel processors, the design of the chip will be "dramatically different" from its contemporaries, as well as current Intel chips, Chandrasekher said.

Battery power will be emphasized. During his keynote at the forum here, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said that notebooks in 2008 would hit the magical target of "all day" battery life--that is, being able to run eight hours on a single charge.

Chandrasekher did not elaborate on how Steeley would differ from other chips, but there are several techniques for reducing cost and power consumption in chips. Memory controllers and graphics chips, for instance, can be integrated into the same piece of silicon as the processor. Intel tried this once in the late 1990s with a chip called Timna. That chip got pulled, however, because the controller linked only to Rambus memory, which proved to be highly unpopular.

The new chip will be included in a platform, or reference design, called McCaslin. Intel licenses the reference designs, which are sort of like blueprints, to PC makers. While he was relatively mum about McCaslin, Chandrasekher did say that the screens will measure around four to seven inches across--any smaller means compromising the viewing experience. Any larger, and the device starts to look like a notebook.

The machines, which will also have Wi-Fi and WiMax capabilities, will also be targeted at drivers as a way to deliver video streams to kids in the back seat and music to the drivers. The software for dividing up the media streams comes from a company called StreetDeck, said its CEO, Robert Wray.

Contract manufacturers Quanta and Inventec have already signed up to design systems based on the new chips.

The first computers based on Steeley/McCaslin will come out in late 2007, he said, but the serious effort to market them will begin in 2008.

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