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Don't expect a low-voltage Pentium 4

Intel will not try to fit the chip into the tiniest notebooks on the market, signaling what will likely be a lengthy and inexorable conversion within the company's mobile processor line.

SAN FRANCISCO--Although Intel spent considerable energy in 2000 and 2001 devising low-energy versions of its Pentium III chip for slim notebooks, it won't do the same with the Pentium 4, company executives said Wednesday.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker next week will release the first version of the Pentium 4 for notebooks, according to sources. The chip will be available in both the 7- to 8-pound desktop replacement notebooks as well as the 4- to 5-pound "thin-and-light" notebooks that are taking over the industry.

The company, however, won't try to fit the chip into the smallest, thinnest notebooks on the market, which require chips that consume an average of a watt or less of power.

Instead, it will continue to use the low- and ultralow-voltage Pentium III chips for this market and then replace them with Banias, an energy-efficient chip coming in the first half of 2003.

"We have no plans to have a low-power or ultralow-power version of the Pentium 4-M," Don MacDonald, director of mobile marketing at Intel, said at the Intel Developer Forum, a four-day convention here.

Intel's decision not to completely diversify the Pentium 4 to some degree serves as a harbinger of what will likely be a lengthy and inexorable conversion within the company's mobile processor line.

The Pentium 4 is Intel's premier processor at the moment, providing greater performance than its predecessors. Battery life and energy conservation, however, are becoming important factors in the portable market. And historically, power consumption hasn't been a strong point for the Pentium.

"Once you get wireless, you are going to want to untether yourself from the power cable, and that puts pressure on the battery," said Anand Chandrasekher, general manager of the mobile platforms group at Intel. "It is a huge behavioral change, and it will drive people to this platform in hordes."

Banias, which is being built from the ground up to fit only into notebooks, will consume far less power than Pentium 4 chips, according to Intel. The Pentium 4 and Banias will coexist next year and for some time beyond, but the future will belong to the new chip.

"Over time, we do anticipate that the notebook market will transition to the Banias class of processor," Chandrasekher said. "It is going to deliver superior performance in a cool thermal envelope."

Still, the company can't begin the conversion process too early. Although Intel has developed a chipset for Banias, the processor itself has yet to come out in samples.

"We don't have Banias in silicon yet," Chandrasekher said, meaning that it's still more of a drawing-board concept than a tangible, testable object.

Notebooks containing the chip, however, will appear in the first half of 2003.