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Intel accelerates its Celeron shift

With the introduction of an 800MHz chip, the company quietly--and ahead of schedule--begins the transition to a new generation of mobile Celeron processors.

Intel has quietly made available the first member of what next year will become a new generation of mobile Celeron processors.

The chipmaker has begun shipping a new 800MHz "ultra low voltage" Celeron chip to tablet PC manufacturers such as Motion Computing, a company spokesperson said.

New mobile Celeron processors don't always make headlines, but the 800MHz chip marks the beginning of a transition for the Celeron line to a new generation of underlying technology--a few months earlier than expected. Unlike past mobile Celerons, which were based on the Pentium III-M or the Pentium 4, the ultra-low-voltage chip borrows its circuitry from Intel's more recent Pentium M. The company had been expected to make the circuitry transition in the first quarter of 2004.

The Celeron chip, which appears in tablets such as the Motion M1300, serves as an alternative to Intel's flagship mobile processor, the Pentium M, or its aging Pentium III-M for the smallest mobile computers, such as tablets.

"We are targeting some specific mobile markets with the ULV mobile Celeron with Banias technology," said Mary-Ellin Brooks, an Intel spokeswoman. Banias was Intel's code name for the Pentium M.

It makes sense for Intel to release the 800MHz ultra low voltage Celeron chip now because it can replace the Pentium III-M chip and, at the same time, complement the Pentium M by working with the same supporting chips. It also shares the Pentium M's 400MHz bus, or data pipeline. That means PC makers don't have to equip their less-expensive tablet models with their own specific hardware or try to wedge in mobile Celerons based on the Pentium 4, which typically use more power and produce more heat than the Pentium M.

As is typical of Intel's Celeron line--created in 1998 as lower-priced alternative to the Pentium line--the new 800MHz chip has a 512KB cache, half that of the Pentium M, and also runs at a much lower clock speed. Although the very first Celeron chips came without cache, Intel quickly added it. Celerons also traditionally cost less than Pentiums, though pricing on the 800MHz chip was not available.

The Pentium M, introduced last March, comes with 1MB of cache and runs at clock speeds ranging from 1.3GHz to 1.7GHz. Low-power versions of the chip come in 900MHz, 1GHz and 1.2GHz speeds. It also comes in the Centrino bundle of chips for wireless notebooks. Cache is used to boost the performance of a chip by holding a pool of data close to the processor core.

Intel will officially launch the Pentium M-based Celeron line in the first quarter, Anand Chandrasekher, the company's general manager of mobile platforms, said in a recent interview with CNET News.com. The Celeron chip will be offered alongside a new version of the Pentium M, dubbed Dothan, that's also expected to come in notebooks in the first quarter.

Motion Computing is including the 800MHz mobile Celeron in a version of its M1300 tablet designed to offer a lower price for customers who aren't necessarily in need of all-out performance. Motion's Celeron M1300 model starts at $1,699, while its Pentium M begins at $1,999.

The 800MHz chip also appears to be an option on Hewlett-Packard's HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1100, which came out in October.

Motion Computing is also replacing its M1200 tablet, based on a 933MHz Pentium III-M, with the 800MHz Celeron M1300 model, and other companies are likely to do the same over time. It said that the Celeron-based tablet offers increases in performance and battery life of about 10 percent each over the Pentium III-M machine.