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Intel cloner vows $800 notebooks

Rise Technology, an upstart chip company down the street from Intel, will jump into the notebook PC market later this year.

A new processor vendor will jump into the notebook PC market later this year, and, once again, prices will very likely go down.

Rise Technology, an upstart chip company down the street from Intel, will officially unveil two new low-powered, low-cost Intel clone chips next month at the Microprocessor Forum hosted by MicroDesign Resources, as well as detail the company's strategy for capturing a portion of the overall basic PC segments.

Rise's strategy revolves around making its products cheaper, and making them once. Rise will release a series of chips for the different price points in the basic PC segment. In a departure from standard practice, Rise will not make different chips for the notebook and desktop PC segments like other vendors. Instead, the company will make one low-powered chip for notebooks and sell it into standard PCs also, said David Lin, chief executive officer at Rise.

While the company hopes to attract domestic manufacturers, it expects to find a number of its partners in Asia. This should push prices from Asian notebook vendors down to unheard-of levels.

"We will see $800 notebooks by the end of the year. The key limiting factor is the price of the panel," said Lin. While these notebooks will be coming out from fringe vendors, their existence will help pull portables below the $1,500 limbo bar.

Volume is clearly on Lin's mind. He contemplated creating a chip based around Sun's Sparc core, but decided against it because of the size of the market.

If anything, Rise differs from the other Intel clone vendors in the degree to which it has concentrated on avoiding the possibility of legal battles with Intel.

"They've been very careful in avoiding any problems with Intel," said Richard Belgard, an independent processor consultant.

The company itself does not have a license from Intel. All Rise processors, however, will be made in a fabrication facility owned by an Intel licensee, which protects Rise from committing patent infringement, said Lin. While Lin would not reveal the name of the foundry, Lin added that the arrangement will give Rise access to the latest Intel technology without incurring significant royalty costs.

Rise, for instance, will be able to adopt the P6 system bus, one of the key differentiating elements of the Pentium II and one that has yet to be copied by a competitor. The first Rise chips, though, will be based around the standard "Socket 7" and "Super 7" architecture used by other clone vendors. IBM, which manufactures processors for other Intel clone vendors, is a likely candidate.

In addition, Rise will adopt the new Katmai instructions, often called MMX 2, for use in the first part of 1999. "We will support MMX 1 and MMX 2 but not (AMD's) 3D Now," Lin said.

Finding success as an Intel clone vendor, historically, has not proven easy. Although several million Intel-compatible processors based around the architecture are sold annually, continual price cuts, the economies of scale of the existing players, and the difficulty inherent in landing design wins with computer vendors has made the task daunting.

AMD and Cyrix, which was purchased by National Semiconductor last year, are currently the two most successful Intel clone vendors.

Another clone contender, Transmeta, will also reveal their product plans. Transmeta is expected to show off a Reduced Instruction Set Chip (RISC) that can read instructions written for an Intel chip, said sources.

Nonetheless, the size of the market, combined with the relatively high price points on notebooks, still make this an attractive opportunity.

"There is a lot more room for differentiation in the notebook space," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.