Can Intel's ultra-light chip spark sales?
Frank Spindler, VP Mobile Products Division, Intel
To that end, the company on Monday launched a set of new low-power Pentium III-M chips. They include low-voltage chips at 733MHz and 750MHz, two at 800MHz, and an ultralow-voltage 700MHz model. The chipmaker also announced a 1.2GHz Pentium III-M, which runs at 800MHz in battery mode.
The Pentium III-M, which uses Intel's new 130-nanometer (0.13-micron) manufacturing process, was introduced in late July.
Intel offers three flavors of mobile Pentium III chips: standard, low power and ultralow power. The latter two offer lower power consumption and clock speeds and are designed to be used in smaller notebooks, such as ultra-portable models weighing 4 pounds or less. All three also include the company's SpeedStep technology, which allows the chip to scale back in clock speed and voltage to extend battery life.
The new low-power chips will go into laptops in two categories: ultra-portables, or laptops that weigh 4 pounds or less, and mini-notebooks, or laptops that weigh 3 pounds or less. It's these notebooks that Intel sees as the precursor to the age of sleeker, more capable wireless-enabled notebooks. Intel's previous ultralow-voltage Pentium III runs at 600MHz.
As processor speeds increase, power consumption drops, and new wireless networking technologies proliferate, ultra-portables should make gains, the chipmaker says.
"Notebook PCs are continuously extending their capabilities, their range and the ways they are being used," said Frank Spindler, general manager of Intel's Mobile Products Group.
This fall, a "significant number" of notebooks will debut with integrated wireless capabilities, he said. As a result, "notebooks are now reaching the promise of...a system that can be used anywhere, anytime."
A number of PC makers are expected to launch new notebooks based on the low-power chips in the next 30 days.
As previously reported, these will include Compaq Computer and IBM. Compaq is expected to launch its new Evo N200 mini-notebook with a 700MHz ultalow-voltage Pentium III-M. Later in the year, Dell Computer is expected to launch a new Latitude ultra-portable.
Bigger sells better
Despite the strength of the notebook market as a whole, the ultra-portables may face tough times as tastes and economics collide.
"The U.S. market has been a little more resistant to the smaller notebook," said IDC analyst Alan Promisel. "As a society, we like our big cars and our larger notebooks as well. We like our computers stacked with the latest and greatest, and you just can't get all of that in the smaller form factors."
As a result, "for ultra-portables to really take off, we need the economy to get better and for the buying public to be less price sensitive," he said.
IDC projects the total market for ultra-portable laptops to shrink from 845,000 units in 2000 to 617,000 in 2001, partly because of the overall PC slowdown but also because of price sensitivity among notebook buyers.
Chipmaker Transmeta helped introduce a mini-notebook in the United States and spurred a number of new systems in Japan--where the mini-notebook form has proved more popular--with the January 2000 launch of its low-power Crusoe processor.
However, though faster chips are available, Transmeta notebooks have been stalled at 667MHz. Notebooks with the chipmaker's faster Crusoe TM 5800 chip, running at 800MHz, are expected in the fourth quarter.
Despite their short-term hang-ups, ultra-portables are destined to take up more of the market. Right now, so-called thin-and-light notebooks make up 60 percent of the market, with full-size machines taking up 30 percent and ultra-portables accounting for the remaining 10 percent.
Over "the next one to three years, I could project ultra-portables moving up to maybe 20 percent," Promisel said. However, "the longer the price (of full-size notebooks) stays low, the longer they will stick around."
Intel has products for full-size machines as well.
Several notebook makers will immediately adopt Intel's new 1.2GHz Pentium III-M:
Dell is offering the Inspiron 8100 notebook starting at $2,049 with that chip, a 15-inch display and 128MB of RAM.
Gateway will offer the 1.2GHz chip in its Solo 9550--with a 15.7-inch display, 256MB of RAM and a CD-RW/DVD combination drive--for $2,799. An 802.11b wireless networking option costs $159.
Toshiba will use the new chip in its Tecra 9000 line. A 9000 model with the 1.2GHz chip, 14.1-inch screen, 256MB of RAM and a combo CD-RW/DVD drive will cost $3,329.
Intel's new Pentium III-M chips will range in price from $209 for the 700MHz ultralow-power chip to $722 for the 1.2GHz chip.
Celerons and chipsets
Along with the new mobile Pentium III-M chips, Intel launched several new Celeron chips.
New 733MHz, 800MHz, 866MHz and 933MHz mobile Celerons were introduced to work with the company's relatively new 830 chipset. Volume prices on the chips range from $75 to $134.
Meanwhile, a new 650MHz ultralow-voltage chip was introduced to help PC makers offer lower-priced ultra-portables. It is priced at $134.
Finally, Intel launched a new 900MHz Celeron destined for current notebook designs that use a 100MHz bus. It, too, is priced at $134.
Dell is offering its Inspiron 2500 with the 900MHz chip and a 12.1-inch screen chip starting at $1,049.
Intel on Monday also announced two new versions of the 830 chipset that connects the new processors to other notebook components. The 830M and 830MG have integrated graphics processing, which helps reduce costs and cut power consumption. The 830M is the more performance-oriented of the two, while the 830MG is focused on lowering power consumption and cost.