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Intel mobilizes Pentium 4-M message

The chipmaker descends on Manhattan to announce three new Pentium 4-M processors--including one running at 1.8GHz--and to spread the word about mobile computing.

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Intel speeds up mobile chips
Jeff McCrea, vice president, Intel
NEW YORK--Intel descended on Manhattan on Tuesday to announce three new Pentium 4-M processors and to spread the word about mobile computing.

The processors will run at 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz and 1.8GHz, the latter a new top speed for the chip line, and will act as bookends for the currently available 1.6GHz and 1.7GHz Pentium 4-M chips, giving the company a wider array of its flagship mobile processors for notebook buyers.

Corporations have been the biggest buyers of notebooks, but price drops and more aggressive marketing have expanded the size of the consumer market. Last February, retail notebook sales grew by 30 percent year over year, according to market researcher NPD Techworld. Desktop sales, meanwhile, fell by about 25 percent.

Intel wants Pentium 4-M to have a piece of that consumer market. The chip made its debut in early March at 1.6GHz and 1.7GHz. At the time, however, the chips and the corresponding notebooks were fairly pricey, with most systems costing close to $2,500. Still, Pentium 4-M notebooks have actually found greater popularity among consumers looking to replace desktops than they have in the business world, where weight and size rule.

The 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz chips will make it possible for PC makers to sell Pentium 4-M notebooks starting at around $1,500 or less, a sweet spot for pricing.

"That $1,500 range seems to be pretty good" for manufacturers, NPD analyst Steve Baker said. "We're seeing a lot of $999 to $1,299 products do well. That helps pull the average price down...We're not seeing a dearth of $2,000 notebooks, but proportionally they represent less of an important part of the business."

PC makers aren't wasting time getting out new notebooks based on the chips. Dell Computer, for instance, will launch a new Inspiron 2650, a Pentium 4-M version of its basic entry-level notebook for consumers. The machine will start at $1,299 when fitted with a 1.4GHz chip and a 14-inch screen. (Dell sells a SmartStep 100N notebook at a much lower price, but that system is not configurable.)

Meanwhile, Gateway has just launched a new line of notebooks, including a lower-priced Gateway 450, starting at $1,499. For that price, the 5.5-pound machine offers a 1.4GHz Pentium 4-M, a 14-inch screen and a CD-RW drive. The PC maker also introduced the Gateway 600, a larger, more expensive machine that lets owners listen to MP3 and other audio files on headphones without turning on the machine; listeners control the playback through external buttons. It starts at $1,799 with a 1.4GHz Pentium 4-M and a 15-inch screen.

Compaq Computer has updated its Pentium 4-M Presario and Evo notebook lines. The company introduced the new Evo N800v, for example, with a 1.4GHz Pentium 4-M and a starting price of $1,399.

Hewlett-Packard, IBM and several other manufacturers also are expected to launch new Pentium 4-M notebooks Tuesday.

Intel pounds the pavement
Meanwhile, to help promote its mobile message, Intel has put some feet on the street in New York. The chipmaker has representatives walking and riding skateboards and scooters around Manhattan, demonstrating Pentium 4-M notebooks on the spot and passing out information.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has also set up kiosks around the city at areas such as Pennsylvania Station, a train and subway hub. These kiosks, including a wireless-equipped tent at Columbia University and another at Bryant Park, offer a look at how people use notebooks.

In addition, Intel is using the day to shed some light on the future of the Pentium 4-M. With the launch of new, lower-priced versions of that processor, Intel has begun working in earnest to displace its Pentium III-M chip for all notebooks larger than 4.5 pounds or so.

At a luncheon following the initial press kickoff, Don MacDonald, Intel's director of mobile platforms, said, "The Pentium 4-M will cross over by the end of this year," shipping more units than the III-M.

The company will maintain its low-priced mobile Celeron chip and low-voltage Pentium III-M chips for smaller notebooks until the arrival of Banias, a chip designed from the ground up for portables, in the first quarter of next year.

Intel plans to move Pentium 4-M to lower prices, though it won't be able to do so without competition. Advanced Micro Devices, its archrival, recently introduced its new mobile Athlon XP chip, running at speeds up to about 1.5GHz. The company contends that the mobile chips will perform as well as or better than the newest Pentium 4-M chips.

But Intel will continue with its proliferation plan. It has already said it will increase production of the Pentium 4-M even more quickly than it did its desktop Pentium 4 chip. That chip began shipping in greater numbers than the Pentium III within about 11 months of its release.

Also among Intel's plans is a drive to higher clock speeds. The chipmaker has already said it will offer a 2GHz Pentium 4-M by the end of the year. Executives on Tuesday are likely to elaborate on the company's plans for that chip.

The company further touted its plan to expand public wireless networks--a way to encourage more sales of Intel-based notebooks. Under Intel's Wireless Enablement Program, originally announced at the Intel Developer Forum in February, the company is backing the build-out of such networks through investments in various businesses.

"Today, we have already invested in a couple of companies who are already developing" wireless networks, MacDonald said at the luncheon. "The key, though, is the number of (notebooks). We've got to get tens of millions" of notebooks into the market. MacDonald said Intel Capital, the company's investment arm, had put money into STSN, a company building wireless LANs (local area networks) in hotel rooms.

The Wireless Enablement Program is part of a previously announced 7-year plan to make wireless omnipresent. In addition to the expansion of public networks, or "hotspots," WEP will involve recruiting partners, such as PC makers, to make sure they build wireless into their products. Ultimately, the effort will result in partnerships to promote the hotspots.

Meanwhile, at least two manufacturers, Dell and IBM, will buck the low-price trend and offer the faster 1.8GHz Pentium 4-M chip in all new systems. Dell's will be a new Pentium 4-M mobile workstation, its Precision M50, and IBM will launch a new flagship ThinkPad T30 model. The IBM machine will weigh 4.9 pounds and include a 14-inch screen as well as wireless and data security features. It will start at $2,499.