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Motorola chips ahead of Intel

When it comes to notebooks, the 300-MHz 750 PowerPC processor is faster and better designed than Intel's Pentium II in some respects.

Motorola (MOT) demonstrated yesterday that super-fast PowerPC processors should keep Apple Computer ahead in the race for the fastest mobile computer chip.

At the Hot Chips conference yesterday in Palo Alto, California, the Motorola microprocessor group showed off a notebook computer using a 300-MHz 750 PowerPC processor. The 750 is the newest member of the PowerPC processor family, which is used in all Apple Macintosh computers and clones.

Brad Burgess, chief architect at the Motorola Somerset Microprocessor Design Center in Austin, Texas, unveiled an experimental notebook with the 300-MHz 750 chip running a version of the popular PC game "Doom" that had been ported to the PowerPC. Doom is a graphics-intensive, interactive game.

Interestingly, the new PowerPC 750 processor has only been officially released for desktop Macintosh computers at speeds of up to 275 MHz. The fact that an even faster version of the chip was running in a notebook showed the advantages this design has over Intel?s newest processor, the Pentium II.

"Put the [operating system] aside, and it's absolutely the preferred processor for notebooks," said Michael Slater, publisher of the Microprocessor Report, referring to the fact that most users don't choose a computer for its processor but rather for its operating system software.

"Its roughly comparable performance [to the Pentium II] at drastically lower power consumption," he added.

The Pentium II will not be available in a notebook version until 1998 because of power consumption and heat issues. The PowerPC 750, on the other hand, is expected to find its way into notebook PCs from Apple and possibly other Macintosh clone vendors this year.

Notebook PCs, because of the cramped design, require processors that generate a relatively small amount of heat. Processors must also draw much less power than desktop versions because battery life is an important consideration.

The PowerPC 750 excels in both of these areas, using little power and thereby giving off a minimal amount of heat. Burgess said the notebook he demonstrated did not use a fan despite the high speed, which drew a round of applause from all engineers in the audience.

"The performance is there. Power consumption is really good," said Dean McCarron, a principal at Mercury Research, a marketing research firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona. McCarron did add, however, that the performance of the PowerPC 750 "is a little hard to characterize at the moment," saying that the processor is only a portion of a system's design and that overall computer performance is dependent on a number factors exclusive of the processor.

The notebook was also using high-speed cache memory which runs at the same speed of the processor, an advance that Intel has yet to match in notebooks. Generally, cache memory runs at a slower speed than the processor. Cache memory speeds up processor performance.

The Semiconductor Products Sector, which designs and produces the PowerPC processor is a separate business unit within Motorola that does not make computers. Mac-compatible computers are made by the Motorola Computer Group.

The company did recently form a mobile computing business unit in the Computer Group that will be responsible for new families of mobile and portable products, and is currently developing a PowerPC based notebook. Motorola's Computer Group is still not able to bring out a notebook, however, because it must negotiate with Apple first over the use of Mac OS 8 and other technologies needed to bring a notebook to market.

In related news, Intel will release on September 8 two new MMX Pentium processors for notebooks running at 200 and 233 MHz.