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Intel debuts low-power Pentium Ms

Chipmaker notches down the voltage on its mobile chips, gearing them to lightweight laptops and tablet PCs.

Intel on Tuesday introduced a quartet of low-power processors for lightweight notebooks and tablet PCs.

The new chips include two ultralow-voltage Pentium Ms with clock speeds of 1.1GHz and 1GHz and a low-voltage chip in the same family that runs at 1.4 GHz. The fourth model launched is an ultralow-voltage 900MHz Celeron M. The processors offer a bump in performance for portable computers that weigh about 3 pounds, Intel said.

The chips are based on Dothan, the latest version of Intel's Pentium M processor. That means they are produced using Intel's 90-nanometer manufacturing process and, aside from greater clock speed, have features designed to enhance performance, such as an extra helping of cache.

Although the new processors don't run as fast as other Dothans--the Pentium M 755 runs at 2GHz, for example--they consume less power. One sign of this is that they need less cooling than other Pentium Ms. Intel's design guidelines state that notebooks that use the ultralow-voltage chips need only be built to dissipate up to 5 watts of power, for example, while those with the low-voltage Pentium M should dissipate up to 10 watts of power. A typical Pentium M system, which would include a chip such as the 755, should be able to dissipate up to 21 watts, according to the guidelines.

Because they're lower voltage, the new chips don't offer as much clock speed as other Pentium Ms, but they give PC makers more leeway in designing lightweight laptops. They are cooler and can run longer on batteries relative to other Pentium Ms, so a weight-conscious PC maker could design a smaller system around one--without a fan, for example, or with a smaller battery.

The Pentium M processor Low Voltage 738, which runs at 1.4GHz, is available as a $50 upgrade in Dell's Latitude X300 laptop, according to Dell's Web site. That notebook-chip combination with a 12.1-inch display, 256MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, a CD-ROM player, Microsoft Windows XP Professional operating system and a basic warranty is priced on Dell's site at about $1,800.

Intel also plans to sell the low-voltage Pentium Ms in its Centrino wireless chip bundle.

The processors will be offered at list prices under $300 in 1,000-unit volumes, initially. The 1.4GHz Pentium M Low Voltage 738 will list for $284, while the 1.1GHz Ultra Low Voltage 733 will come in at $262. The 1GHz Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage 723 has a tag of $241, Intel said in its statement.

The 900MHz Celeron M Ultra Low Voltage 353, which will cost $161 in 1,000-unit volumes, is being positioned as a less-expensive alternative to the new Pentium M 723 and 733 for lightweight notebooks.

The chips' low power consumption means they come at a premium price for their clock speed. The $241 price of the 1GHz Pentium M 723 matches that of the regular 1.6GHz Pentium M 725, for example.

Nevertheless, Intel has cut prices on some existing mobile chips to make room in its list for the new ones. The cost of the Celeron M 333 has been dropped by just under 11 percent, from $161 to $144, for example.