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Dell, Toshiba latch on to power-saving notebook chip

The two PC giants are the first major notebook makers to sign up for Intel's new 700MHz mobile Pentium III chip.

Dell Computer and Toshiba are the first major notebook makers to sign up for Intel's new 700MHz power-saving mobile Pentium III chip.

Intel released the chip Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, Calif. Meanwhile, Dell announced its plans to use the chip in the Latitude L400. And Toshiba said it will use the processor in its Portege 3490CT.

Both of these systems are considered mini-notebooks, which have slightly smaller keyboards than regular notebooks and screen sizes of 11 inches to 12 inches. Both the Dell and Toshiba models weigh just over 3 pounds. Dell's is an inch thick, and Toshiba's is 0.8 inches thick.

Manufacturers are trying to take advantage of notebooks--the one area in the PC market where sales are still strong. The mini-notebook, however, is the one category within notebooks that gets a lot of attention for its sex appeal but has yet to start selling in large numbers. Dell

As previously reported, the new Pentium III chip falls into the SpeedStep family of Intel processors, in which a chip alters its clock speed depending on its source of power. The point of SpeedStep technology is to preserve battery life without sacrificing too much performance.

The new chip takes an aggressive approach to power management by reducing the clock speed even further than previous generations of SpeedStep chips. When a notebook is running on battery power, the 700MHz chip drops the clock speed by 200MHz. Previous chips only reduced clock speed by 100MHz.

Manufacturers have been trying to improve power consumption and improved battery life by hedging on performance.

"The only issue that is a bit of an unknown is: At what point do you trade off performance vs. the amount of power you give up to get there?" said Steve Macon, Dell's product manager for the L400.

However, Dell sees its efforts to strike a balance as worthwhile because of the strong growth expected in the mini-notebook market.

Frank Spindler, general manager of Intel's mobile and handheld products group, has said that about 60 percent of the notebook market will migrate to the "thin-and-light segment" over the next few years.

Intel rival Transmeta seems to agree, putting an emphasis on chips for smaller and lighter notebooks with increased battery life. Transmeta is currently shipping a 667MHz Crusoe chip in a Sony Vaio PCG-C1VN PictureBook mini-notebook that directly competes with Intel's new 700MHz counterpart.

"We are seeing very strong growth" in mini-notebooks, Macon said. The L400 is "the first step, and going forward you'll see us focus on this piece of our portfolio."

Dell's Latitude L400 has a magnesium alloy cover. The $2,159 notebook comes with a 12.1-inch screen, 128MB of SDRAM, a 6GB hard drive, 4MB of graphics memory, V.90 56K modem and an integrated Ethernet port.

Toshiba's Portege 3490CT costs $2,399 and comes with an 11.3-inch screen, 128MB of SDRAM, a 20GB hard drive, 4MB of graphics memory and an integrated V.90 56K modem and Ethernet connection.