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Intel speeds up low-power laptop chips

The chipmaker launches four new low-power processors for small, lightweight laptops known as mininotebooks.

Intel on Wednesday released a new crop of energy-efficient processors for mobile computers.

The chipmaker launched four in all: an ultra-low-voltage 1.1GHz Pentium M, an ultra-low-voltage 900MHz Celeron M, a low-voltage 1.3GHz Pentium M, and a standard 1.4GHz Celeron M. PC makers, including Motion Computing, followed with new computer models.

The chips update Intel's line of energy-efficient processors geared toward small, lightweight notebooks, such as IBM's 2.7-pound ThinkPad X40. These notebooks are sometimes called ultraportables, or mininotebooks.

Analysts say that although this market makes up a relatively small portion of overall notebook sales, the machines are sought after by companies with employees who travel a lot. Such companies are willing to pay more for the small size, which benefits Intel even if it sells fewer of the chips.

The ultra-low-voltage chips have relatively low clock speeds, but they use the least power of any of Intel's notebook chips. By operating at a hair over 1 volt, the chips consume about 7 watts of power. Manufactures typically use these chips in their thinnest, lightest models. Because the chips consume less power, they produce less heat, thus allowing companies to put them into thinner chassis and enabling them to use smaller batteries, which reduces weight.

Among the computer makers that plan to use the new chips is Motion Computing, which will put the 1.1GHz ultra-low-voltage Pentium M in its newest tablet, the M1400. The $1,999 tablet touts a number of upgrades over its predecessor, the M1300, including the ability to record audio, security functions such as a fingerprint reader, and a screen with a wider viewing angle.

Power and speed Intel's 1.3GHz low-voltage Pentium M operates at 1.18 volts and consumes about 12 watts.

Standard Pentium M and Celeron M chips, such as the 1.4GHz Celeron M that debuted Wednesday, operate at about 1.36 volts and typically consume around 25 watts, Intel said. In contrast, some of the chipmaker's desktop Pentium 4 processors can consume 100 watts or more.

Intel separates its chips by price and performance. The Pentium M offers the most performance and the greatest number of features, while the Celeron M is designed to cost less, helping PC makers to deliver lower-priced notebooks and tablets.

The new 900MHz ultra-low-voltage Celeron lists for $161, Intel said, and the 1.1GHz ultra-low-voltage Pentium M is $262. Due to their basic similarities, the two chips are likely to be offered as options in some of the same notebook models.

Intel's price for the 1.3GHz low-voltage Pentium M is $284, while the 1.4GHz Celeron M lists for $134, according to Intel. Intel bases its prices on chips purchased in lots of 1,000. As a result, individual chip prices often vary.

Earlier in the week, Intel dropped the price on some of its existing low-power chips.