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Intel to unveil new low-powered mobile chips

The chip giant confirms the release date on its energy-saving, and previously delayed, mobile Pentium III processors that will narrow the performance gap between desktops and notebook PCs.

Intel has confirmed the release date on its energy-saving, and previously delayed, mobile Pentium III processors that will narrow the performance gap between desktops and notebook PCs.

As reported earlier this month, the chip giant, along with a number of notebook manufacturers, will gather on Jan. 18 to show off notebooks containing Pentium III processors containing "SpeedStep" technology. Intel officials have now confirmed the date and the fact that the shindig will take place in San Francisco.

SpeedStep, formerly known as "Geyserville," will allow a processor to run faster when plugged in than when running on battery power. The first SpeedStep Pentium IIIs, for instance, will run at 600 MHz when the notebook is plugged in and at 500 MHz when unplugged.

The change is important because it will allow notebook makers to incorporate faster chips without compromising battery life, Intel executives and analysts have said. Currently, Intel's fastest notebook chip runs at 500 MHz while its fastest desktop chip runs at 800 MHz. By adding SpeedStep, the gap will shrink effectively by 100 MHz.

"It has taken us out of the constraint that we have to limit the performance of the CPU," said Robert Jecmen, vice president of mobile and handheld product group at Intel, last February when the technology was detailed. "Battery technology is not scaling like silicon technology."

Faster, higher-performance notebooks have been a goal for both Intel and PC manufacturers as portables generally carry higher profit margins. A 500-MHz Pentium III for desktops sells in volume for $229, while its not-extremely-different mobile counterpart sells for $530.

Also in January, Intel will release new versions of its Xeon processor that will contain integrated secondary caches of 1MB and 2MB. The most recent Xeons contain 512KB of integrated cache and do not, according to analysts and PC executives, deliver much more in the way of performance, at least in workstations, than less expensive Pentium III chips.

While the new Pentium III SpeedStep processors will give Intel an upper hand in performance, its rival AMD won't be far behind. AMD will incorporate a similar technology, called Gemini, into its notebook chips in 2000.

Despite these developments, consumers will likely see relatively stable prices and periodic difficulties in getting notebooks because of a lingering display shortage, several executives have said.