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New Intel chips to ease throttle on slim notebooks

The chipmaker next week will unveil a faster mobile Pentium III aimed at smaller notebook PCs, which are expected to grow in popularity in the coming years.

Intel will up the stakes in the power-saving mobile processor game next week with a faster mobile Pentium III aimed at smaller notebook PCs, an evolving class of systems referred to as "thin-and-lights."

On Tuesday, the chipmaker will announce its new 700MHz low-power mobile Pentium III chip, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

With the chip, Intel is attempting to offer buyers an acceptable amount of performance for thin-and-lights, but without decreasing all-important battery life. These slender, lightweight notebooks, such as IBM's ThinkPad 570, generally weigh about 4 pounds and offer full-size keyboards and screens of 13 inches or more.

A mini-notebook, in comparison, offers a slightly smaller keyboard and screen sizes closer to 11 or 12 inches. The new 700MHz chip is expected to find a home in these notebooks as well.

Intel and other chipmakers such as Transmeta are putting an emphasis on smaller, lighter notebooks and increased battery life because they agree that these models will dominate the market over the next few years, Frank Spindler, general manager of Intel's Mobile and Handheld Products Group, said in a recent interview.

A market in the making
"Roughly 60 percent of the market will migrate to this thin-and-light segment" over the next few years, Spindler said.

Notebook PC sales remain strong despite a slowdown in the overall PC market. Intel expects that popular full-size notebooks will occupy 30 percent of the market. The mini-notebook and sub-notebook segment will account for about 10 percent of the market, he said.

Analysts say it's in Intel's best interest to keep up with the Joneses in this market, as competitors Transmeta and Advanced Micro Devices push ahead with their mobile products.

"The reality is that there's competition that Intel has to stay ahead of," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst at Mercury Research in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The new Pentium III chip will use Intel's SpeedStep technology, which reduces clock speed and voltage when a notebook switches to battery power to lower the chip's overall power consumption. The chip will run at 700MHz with a core voltage of 1.35 volts while the system is plugged into an AC outlet, but will ease back to 600MHz and 1.1 volts while on battery power. All chipmakers offer some sort of power-saving technology to enable chips to run at a slower rate when operating on battery power.

Intel is expected to follow this chip with a 750MHz version in the next quarter and an 800MHz model in the second half of the year. The 800MHz chip will consume even less power, because the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company plans to manufacture it using its forthcoming 0.13-micron process, executives have said.

Because notebooks come in such a variety of sizes, ranging from full-size models with 15-inch screens to sub-notebooks, weighing only 2 or 3 pounds, Intel offers a number of mobile chips.

Intel manufactures six different notebook chips, with a mobile Pentium III and a corresponding Celeron chip for each notebook category, Spindler said. Though the mobile Celeron chips cost less, they are based on the same technology as the mobile Pentium III and differ only in cache sizes and core voltages.

Other new chips in the works
Intel has plans for full-size notebooks as well. The chipmaker will introduce its new 900MHz and 1GHz mobile Pentium III chips for full-size notebooks on March 19, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

The company plans to follow those releases with new chips in each of its six categories, ranging from a faster version of its "ultra-low-power" mobile Pentium III chip running at 600MHz to a range of chips, including a 1.2GHz Pentium III for full-size notebooks, based on the 0.13-micron manufacturing process, in the second half of the year.

Intel's first mobile Pentium 4 chip is not expected until the second quarter of 2002, sources said.