Notebook PCs arrive amid chip dispute

New notebook PCs are coming with the arrival of faster chips from Intel, but a planned boycott could steal the limelight.

A boatload of new notebooks are coming with the arrival of faster processors from Intel, but a planned boycott could steal the limelight from what would otherwise be a fairly routine product announcement.

Intel rolled out new Pentium II chips for notebooks running at clock speeds of 266 MHz, 300 MHz, 333 MHz, and 366 MHz with an integrated cache that will boost their performance past standard Pentium IIs, as expected. The first Celeron chips, which will find a home in entry-level notebooks, were also introduced today at 266 MHz and 300 MHz. The company also released a new, third, type of package for notebook chips that will allow computer makers to shave even more weight from their systems.

At $253 and $172 in volume quantities, respectively, these two chips come to market with the lowest price ever for an Intel notebook chip. That price includes the chip packaging. Without the packaging, they run $187 and $106.

While the new processors should help Intel keep its solid grip on the market for notebook chips, controversial technology slated for next-generation desktop chips threatens to take attention away from today's announcement.

At least two privacy organizations will announce a boycott of Intel because of encryption technology in the upcoming Pentium III chips that could potentially be used to track the habits of Internet users, although Intel is saying the technology could make the Internet a safer place to shop. The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and Junkbusters of Green Brook, New Jersey, which lobbies on a range of high-tech issues, are expected to announce the boycott, according to the Associated Press.

While the next-generation Pentium III is starting to generate a lot of heat about privacy issues, a slew of companies are releasing portables with the newest versions of Intel's current Pentium II and Celeron line of chips for notebooks.

The new Pentium II chips have secondary cache memory "integrated" directly onto the processor, making it the first Pentium II to do so. Integrated cache improves performance. The Celeron mobile chips contain half the amount of cache of the Pentium II and run at 266 MHz and 300 MHz.

The benefits of integration are fairly substantial, said Robert Jecmen, general manager of the mobile and handheld products group. The processor can obtain data from the cache at 3 times the rate in older Pentium IIs, which translates to quicker computing. Similarly, power consumption drops about 15 percent.

Costs for mobile systems are also rapidly dropping. "The absolute costs of mobile computing have gone down drastically over the past three years, dropping 60 to 70 percent," he said.

Compaq Armada 7400
Compaq Armada 7400

Compaq will bring out new 7800 models as well as new versions of its popular slim-design 7400 series with the new Pentium II running up to 366 MHz. The 7400 will get hard drives up to 10GB in size, a standard DVD ROM drive, and the option now for a 14.1 inch LCD screen. This notebook currently only offers a 13.3-inch display. Prices will start at $3,699 for a 333-MHz version and $4,399 for a version with a 366-MHz chip and 14.1-inch screen.

Compaq will also refresh the Armada 3500 and introduce a new 1750 model. The latter will offer a better graphics chip, displays up to 14 inches, and a spill-resistant keyboard made from mylar, Compaq said. Prices for the 1750 will start at $2,999.

Interestingly, Compaq will bring an end to one illustrious line of notebooks. The No.1 PC maker will phase out the 6500 line adopted from Digital Equipment. This began as the seminal Hi-Note Ultra line--which was the first ultraslim design from a major vendor and was introduced back in 1995 by Digital. It was ahead of its time: Then, it had a design very similar to the ultrathin notebooks now appearing from Toshiba and Sony. The 6500 is still a slim design and still uses cutting-edge components such as a fast graphics processor from ATI Technologies and a 14-inch screen.

Compaq, however, recently introduced a slim Presario 1900 notebook with some of the hallmarks of the original Digital Hi-Note design.

Toshiba is integrating the new processors into its ultra-portable Portege, lower-end Satellite, and Tecra lines of notebooks.

Toshiba is offering the Portege 7020 CT with 366 MHz Pentium II processor and 13.3-inch active matrix display and a 6.4GB hard drive, starting at $3,699. The Tecra 8000 series will offer a model with 366 MHz Pentium II processor, 13.3-inch display, and 8.1GB hard drive will be priced at $3,899. The new Satellite 4080XCDT with 366 MHz Pentium II starts at $3,199, while the Satellite 4030CDT with 300 MHz Celeron processor starts at $1,999.

IBM will apparently forgo the new mobile Celeron chip in its corporate notebook introductions, which are expected to be formally announced on Wednesday. The ThinkPad 600E will feature Intel's 366 MHz PII chip and AGP graphics hard disk drives from 4.0 GB to 6.4GB, and 13.3-inch active matrix screens, said industry sources. The new top line 770Z model will come with the 366 MHz Pentium II chip, up to 14.1-inch active matrix displays, 14.1GB hard disk drive, DVD, AGP graphics, and 128MB of memory, sources said. Pricing was not yet known.

Dell Computer said it has tweaked the design of its "Latitude" line of corporate notebooks. The revised systems will use all of the common components such as batteries and hard disk drive expansion modules, allowing information system managers to more easily manage assets. At the same time, Dell shed 1/4 pound off of the weight by using a thinner, lighter LCD display, said Jay Parker, product marketing manager with Dell.

A system with floppy and battery now weighs 5.8 pounds. Prices themselves didn't get much of a trim: They will come in at or slightly below the prices of similar models.

The Dell Latitude CPi A366XT, with a 366 MHz Pentium II processor, a 13.3-inch active matrix screen, and 4.3GB hard disk drive is priced from $2,999. A similarly configured Dell Latitude CPi A300ST, with a 300 MHz "PE" Pentium II chip and a 12.1-inch screen starts at $2,499.

For the small business and consumer market, Dell is revving its Inspiron line with the Pentium II chips in the 7000 series notebooks, and will also use the Celeron in the 3500 series notebooks.

Gateway said it will use the 300-MHz Intel Celeron processor on the Solo 2500, replacing the previous model's 233-MHz MMX Pentium processor. The Solo 2500SE will be priced at $1,699 for a system with 12.1-inch active matrix display and 2GB hard disk drive. The company's five pound Solo 3100 begins at $2,349 with a CD-ROM and a 300-MHz "PE" Pentium II chip, while the "thin and light" category Solo 5150 line will start at $2,299 for systems with the same chip. Gateway's top line Solo 9100SE with a 300-MHz Pentium II processor is priced starting at $2,899, while systems with the 366-MHz Pentium II will begin at $4,499.

Hewlett-Packard is revising the OmniBook 4150 notebook to include a 366-MHz Pentium II, a 10.1 GB hard disk drive, AGP graphics, and a 2X DVD-ROM drive for $4,999. The HP OmniBook 900, which weighs four pounds with 12.1-inch display, will get a 366-MHz Pentium II processor, a 6.4 GB hard disk drive, AGP graphics and a price tag of $3,399.

In addition, HP said it expects to support the new Celeron processor in a product to be announced later in the first quarter. Sources said the product is code-named Typhoon and will feature a distinctive design.

Micron will begin shipping the new Intel processors today in its Transport Trek 2 notebooks aimed at the desktop replacement market. In addition to the new 366- and 333-MHz processors, the Transport Trek 2 features hard disk drives up to 10GB, with networking and 56-kbps cellular modems as options.

A Transport Trek 2 notebook with 333-MHz Pentium II processor, 14.1-inch active matrix display, 64MB of memory, 4.3GB hard drive, and CD-ROM drive is priced at $2,499. With a 366MHz Pentium II processor, the Transport Trek 2 notebook is priced at $2,699.

Like Dell's Latitude systems, NEC said its updated "thin and light" Versa SX notebook computers can use components from previous generation models. Among the models available, a system with a 333 MHz-Pentium II and 14.1-inch active matrix screen, is priced starting at $3,199 and a system with a 366-MHz processor is priced at $3,599.

At the low end of the scale, NEC is offering the Versa Note with 266-MHz Celeron and 12.1-inch active matrix display for $1,699, while a system with A 13.3-inch display and 300-MHz PE Pentium II is priced at $2,199.