Next Monday, Intel will release the Mobile Power Guidelines, a series of hardware and software specifications for keeping power consumption levels on Pentium II notebook PCs down to acceptable levels.
The guidelines, which have been devised by a number of manufacturers, will likely play a pivotal role in the further evolution of notebooks based around Intel architectures. Over the years, as notebooks have made big strides in performance, they have also increasingly consumed more power, which means more heat and less battery life.
Although Intel recently managed to drop processor power consumption with the "Tillamook" Pentium MMX processors--now used widely in many notebooks on the market--those gains will be mostly wiped out with mobile Pentium II processors.
Intel is slated to bring out a smaller, less-power-hungry Pentium II processor for notebooks in the first quarter of 1998 or early in the second quarter, but currently Intel's fastest processor can only be used in desktop and server computers due to the large amount of power it demands and the heat it consequently generates.
Prototypes of Pentium II notebooks are currently running at well above the 25-watt level recommended by the guidelines, said Randy Giusto, mobile computing analyst with International Data Corporation.
"The total [notebook] package is running in the mid 30s to the high 30s," he said. The Pentium II alone is expected to consume as much as eight watts, according to Jason Ziller, mobile platform marketing manager for Intel. This is almost twice that of the current Tillamook version of the Pentium processor.
Some worry that the Pentium II for notebooks could upset the delicate balance of power in portables when the chip is combined with other power hogs such as DVD drives and large screens. "I don't see how eight watts is realistic," Guisto said. "Now that [the Pentium] Tillamook is out there it will create all of these inflated expectations," he added, referring to the fact that the Tillamook's power consumption is at the sweet spot, which the Pentium II will exceed significantly.
Conceivably, Intel could drop some of the built-in memory, referred to as "Level 2 cache," from the mobile Pentium II to reduce power consumption, but this will also reduce performance.
On other fronts, the most significant changes occur in the recommendations for screen design and battery life. For screens, the guidelines recommend that power consumption on 1998 notebook screens drop to 3.3 watts and, in 1999, to 2.3 watts. Currently, screens run at slightly over 3.3 watts, Guisto said. The recommendations presume a 13.3-inch active-matrix LCD screen, which is the largest screen currently being used on mainstream notebooks.
On battery power, Ziller said that the guidelines will seek a 15 percent improvement in battery capacity by 1999. The improvement will allow high-end notebooks to run for three hours. Manufacturers will be able to achieve this through incremental improvement to Lithium Ion technology, he added.
Intel will also release on Monday the third version of the Intel Power Monitor. The Power Monitor tracks the power consumed by operating systems and applications and then sets parameters to improve power performance.
Applications remain one of the least power-efficient parts of notebooks, Ziller pointed out. Improvement, however, is coming. Some application vendors have already found ways to cut power consumption by 60 percent, he said.
Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.