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Intel describes 'ultra-thin,' Nehalem mobile strategy

Chipmaker's message this summer? Thin is getting thinner. Ultra-thin is a big move for Intel. This will be Intel's primary mobile market focus in the next few months.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Thin is getting thinner. That's Intel's message as a wave of affordable, ultra-thin laptops is expected to break this summer.

Erik Reid, Intel's direct of marketing for Mobile Products Group
Erik Reid, Intel's director of marketing for Mobile Products Group Brooke Crothers

Last week, I sat down with Erik Reid, director of marketing for the Mobile Products Group at Intel. Reid described Intel's strategy for its Consumer Ultra-Low-Voltage (CULV) processors--a segment that Intel describes as "ultra-thin"--and the chipmaker's first "Nehalem" mobile processors.

Ultra-thin is a big move for Intel. This will be Intel's primary mobile market focus in the next few months--until Nehalem appears later this year, according to Reid.

"It's a big change in the market. Consumer ULV has great battery life, very low TDPs," Reid said.

TDP, or thermal design power, describes the power envelope of a processor. For example, the current Apple MacBook Air uses Intel ultra-low-voltage processors with a TDP about half of the 35-watt rating for mainstream Intel mobile processors. Some of the lowest-power processors for the ultra-thin CULV category may be only a few watts more than the power-sipping Atom--which is rated at no more than 2.5 watts.

And what will consumers notice the most? Aside from good battery life, the laptop's aesthetics. "Systems can't ever be too thin. So thin will be a significant change in the industry and we're very pleased with the traction that we're seeing leading up to the introduction of those products," Reid said.

Prices will also get consumers' attention. "The affordability thing is really important. Look at your MacBook Air and think about that in terms of being available at different price points," said Intel spokesman Bill Calder.

Intel's initial processors for the ultra-thin category will be single core--like the current SU3500 processor. And the new chips won't all necessarily be Core 2--Intel's current mobile architecture--though Intel wouldn't elaborate on what other architectures--such as Pentium--it may use.

And size? Reid said some laptops will be 13.3-inch (diagonal screen size) designs, some will be a little larger, some will range down to 11.6-inch designs.

And what about cannibalization of the Netbook market--and vice-versa? "We're seeing very little cannibalization," Reid said. "Consumer ULVs are full-featured PCs. Price points will overlap. You might have some premium Netbooks in price bands where you'll see ULV," he said.

"We don't call it a Netbook if it's more than a 10.2-inch," Calder said. "The more that we can be clear about that and help people understand what each one is optimized for, the better the experience they will have," according to Reid. Netbooks are companion devices, Reid said. A person with a notebook is adding to their purchase when they get a Netbook. There are relatively few cases in which the Netbook is being used as the primary device, according to Reid. (Some readers may disagree with this.)

First Nehalem mobile product will be "Clarksfield"
Intel is also slated to launch its first mobile Nehalem processors later this year. "The market is continuing to move to mobile. You see the trends year over year. (Nehalem means) near-desktop performance that they can take with them," Reid said.

MSI X-Slim series offers MacBook Air-like thinness at about half the price
MSI X-Slim series offers MacBook Air-like thinness at about half the price MSI

The initial products will be quad-core. "We're looking at the introduction of our Clarksfield products in the second half of the year," Reid said. "This is our quad-core product based on the Nehalem architecture...For gamers, for multimedia, for content creation, and for the workstation segment."

The mobile Nehalem processors will have the same capabilities as the Core i7 desktop counterpart: an integrated memory controller, for better performance, and Turbo Boost Technology, which dynamically increases the processor's frequency (speed), as needed.

"Direct access to memory. Much better bandwidth, much better performance. Better latency. You're really able to really drive the performance increases significantly," Reid said.

And all of this will run inside a 45-watt thermal envelope (TDP)--the same for existing quad-core Core 2 mobile processors.

After Clarksfield, in 2010, will come the "Calpella" platform--that will include models with graphics integrated into the same package as the processor--a first for Intel. Calpella chips will use Intel's future 32-nanometer production process: currently most Intel processors are based on 45-nanometer technology.

"We think our integrated graphics is very good and improving generation over generation. It gives the best power (consumption) and best battery life," according to Reid.