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Intel's "Geyserville" to invigorate laptops

The new Intel technology allows notebook PCs to operate at a lower power state when running on batteries.

PALM SPRINGS, California--A host of Intel technological improvements will boost PC notebook performance to a level on par with mainstream desktops this year as notebooks will begin to play a larger role in the company's destiny.

"This year, we will have notebooks running at least 600 Mhz or higher in the maximum performance mode," said Robert Jecmen, vice president of the Intel mobile and handheld product group, during his keynote at the company's developer conference here today. "We expect to deliver near desktop performance by the end of the year for the first time."

"Geyserville" is one of the chief reasons for the acceleration in performance, according to Jecmen. Geyserville, which comes out with first the mobile Pentium IIIs in the early part of the second half, allows notebooks to operate at a lower power state when running on batteries.

A 500-MHz Pentium III Geyserville notebook, for instance, will run at 500 MHz when plugged into the wall but only at 400 MHz when operating on batteries. The notebook, however, will consume 40 to 50 percent less power.

While the technology extends battery life, Geyserville's main effect comes in increasing plugged-in performance. For years, notebook vendors have used "brute force clock throttling" to preserve decent battery life on Intel-based notebooks, he said. Now, notebook vendors no longer feel constrained to dumb down their notebooks because of battery constraints. Historically, Intel chips have also been power hogs, said several sources.

"It has taken us out of the constraint that we have to limit the performance of the CPU," Jecmen said, adding, "battery technology is not scaling like silicon technology."

Other improvements will come as well. Toward the middle of the year, the company will roll out 400-MHz and 433-MHz Pentium II mobile processors based around the 0.18-micron manufacturing process, which will be the first chips made on this process. Intel will then follow up with a 500-MHz Pentium III processor with 256KB of integrated, secondary cache, another first.

For the value line, Intel will release a 333-MHz Celeron for notebooks in the second quarter, a 366-MHz Celeron during the summer, and a 400-MHz version in the second half. In addition, the company will release the 440 MX chipset, code-named Bannister, which will make it possible to adopt soft modems and soft audio functions.

The notebook effort comes as part of an effort to maintain the company's historic growth rates. Computer shipments will continue to grow in double digit figures, Paul Otellini, general manager of the Intel Architecture Business Group said earlier in the week. In fact, by the year 2000, PC sales will likely outpace TV sales worldwide. Prices, however, continue to drop. More ominous, approximately 70 to 80 percent of all current purchases come from repeat buyers.

"We have to find the recipe to bring the rest of the 50 percent of the U.S. households and 80 percent of the homes on a worldwide basis," to the computing market, he said.

As for notebooks, he added: "You will see notebooks go from $1,900 to $1,500 to $1,200. We are working with our partners in the industry to find the next price point. We don't know if it will be $999, but we will work with our partners to establish the new price point.

"You will see processor performance that is equivalent to the desktop," he added. Intel itself will switch from having a computer base consisting of 80 percent desktops to 80 percent notebooks.

The effort to drop notebook prices follows a disparity in the market caused by cheap desktops. Last year, while notebook vendors were still directing their wares toward performance users, resellers were reporting fantastic sales on any products priced below $1,300.

Competition is also increasing. Earlier this year, Toshiba started to use AMD processors in its consumer notebooks in Japan. Toshiba has now extended it use of AMD chips to Canada and several European companies, say AMD sources.