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Digital, IBM to have 266-MHz notebooks

266-MHz Pentium MMX chips for mobile computers, to be unveiled on January 12, will be replaced but possibly not supplanted by mobile Pentium II chips.

    Digital (DEC) and IBM (IBM), among other manufacturers, will usher in 1998 with notebooks based around a new 266-MHz Pentium MMX processor from Intel.

    The 266-MHz Pentium MMX chips for mobile computers, which will be unveiled to the public on January 12, will be the last of the Pentium MMX chips, said sources. In the future, new Intel processors will be based around the Pentium II architecture.

    Digital will roll out new models in the HiNote VP 700 line on January 12 in conjunction with Intel's official launch. The new notebooks will come with 266-MHz Pentium MMX processors, screens sized up to 13.3-inches, and the usual accoutrement of larger hard disk drives and faster CD-ROM drives, industry sources said.

    Although it will not be ready for shipping on the day Intel announces the new chip, refreshed ThinkPad 380 using the 266-MHz Pentium MMX chip will emerge from IBM shortly thereafter. The 380 series is IBM's popular "all-in-one" model, with an three bays for features such as CD-ROM and floppy drives.

    Currently, the fastest Pentium for use in notebooks is the 233-MHz Pentium MMX processor. By April 1998, Intel is expected to make available a mobile version of the Pentium II processor (often called by its code name, Deschutes) that will run at 233, 266, and eventually 300 MHz.

    While chips based around the Pentium II may represent the future, the 266-MHz Pentium MMX machines will find a market. Mobile computer makers believe the Pentium MMX design provides notebooks with several advantages that may slip upon the introduction of the Pentium II.

    The current high-level Pentium MMX chips, based on the 0.25-micron manufacturing process, are fairly low-powered. This means that notebook batteries last longer and notebooks run at a cooler temperature.

    The new Pentium II chips for notebooks are expected, at least initially, to consume more power than 233-MHz or 266-MHz MMX processors, which would erode some of the benefits the high-end MMX chips created.

    Intel is currently trying to lower the Pentium II's power consumption while also working with component vendors, software publishers, and OEMs to reduce overall system power use. Power consumption and efficiency has been a historical problem with Intel processors, said some analysts.

    "Intel doesn't understand about battery life. All of [its processors] are battery hogs," said Andrew Seybold, principal of Andrew Seybold's Outlook, a consultancy for mobile computing technologies.

    "Processor speed isn't the bottleneck in mobile performance...It's power management," he said. "The Pentium II is meant to be better than present Pentium MMX [in terms of power consumption], but you are still looking at a portable with two hours of battery life. That's three batteries I have to take with me to on cross-country flights."

    Intel declined to comment on the story, stating that it does not comment on unannounced products.