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Pentium III notebooks set to debut

Plenty of new notebook computers powered for the first time by Intel's Pentium III processor will hit the market on Monday.

Plenty of new notebook computers, powered for the first time by Intel's improved Pentium III processor, will hit the market on Monday, while for desktops Intel will take back the speed title from AMD with a 733-MHz version of the chip.

Next week's debutants are centered around the "Coppermine" processor, an enhanced version of the Pentium III that was originally due in September. The Coppermine Pentium IIIs--which will be seen in notebooks, desktops, workstations, and servers--will run faster than current Pentium IIIs and contain modifications that will boost performance.

Coppermine notebooks will run at 400, 450, and 500 MHz, according to various sources, and come with other enhancements such as a faster system bus, the electronic pathway responsible for shuttling data between the processor and main memory. The new bus runs at 100 MHz, compared to the slower 66-MHz bus used in notebooks now.

Coppermine desktop PCs, meanwhile, will run at 733 MHz and come with a faster 133-MHz bus. Some will also feature fetching, stylish designs. Overall, the new desktop chips will narrow the performance gap between the Pentium III and AMD's Athlon, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64.

"It puts the Pentium III on more or less a clock-for-clock parity," said Brookwood, "When Intel pops with a 733 MHz, there is a likelihood that they will be the fastest guy on the block."

Of course, the big fear is that customers may shrug their shoulders. Although Intel continues to sell more Pentium IIIs than its budget Celeron processors, the fastest growing segment in the market remains the sub-$1,000 PC space.

Some of the new notebooks will be in the light, sub-4-pound category, while others will have whopping 15-inch-plus screens.

A key benefit for consumers is that notebooks will come close to matching Pentium III desktop computers in performance. Notebook designers, like their desktop counterparts before them, will now eschew the aging Pentium II chip and concentrate on economy models with Celeron processors and high-end versions using the Pentium III.

"The new mobile Pentium III will deliver a big boost to notebook performance due to the faster bus, faster CPU clock speeds, and SSE [the multimedia extensions that come with the chip]," wrote Linley Gwennap, publisher of the Microprocessor Report, in a recent newsletter. "AMD is preparing a mobile Athlon product, but it will not debut until next year."

Among the major manufacturers, Gateway will release a notebook for less than $2,000 based on the 450-MHz of the Pentium III. The Solo 2550 will be priced at $1,999 and come with a 13.3-inch screen and the improved 100-MHz bus.

Proving that Intel's brawniest chip can fit into a small, elegant design, NEC will introduce the Versa FX series of notebooks weighing only 3.5 pounds and less than an inch thick but packing in a 400-MHz Pentium III for $2,499. This will include a DVD-ROM drive and long-life batteries, according to sources familiar with the announcement.

Compaq will add two new notebook lines which use the Pentium III processor. The Armada E500 Series, a full-featured business notebook line, and the Armada V300 Series, a value notebook, according to sources.

Compaq will also update the Armada E700, its high-end desktop-replacement, and the M700, a slim-and-wide design which competes with the IBM 600E ThinkPad. Both of these latter two lines were introduced in July and designed specifically to accommodate the Pentium III processor. IBM is planning to update its ThinkPad 600 line with the Pentium III and an updated graphics subsystem, according to sources. The 600 is a slim design but integrates a CD- or DVD-ROM drive.

Dell Computer will update both its Latitude line, aimed at corporations, and Inspiron models, targeted at consumers and small business, according to sources close to Dell.

In addition to Pentium III chips, enhancements to the recently introduced Inspiron 7500 line will include a model with a bigger 15.4-inch LCD screen and a model with a new, high-quality 15-inch screen which can handle resolutions up to 1280-by-1024 pixels. Most notebooks today peak at resolutions of 1024-by-768 pixels, or picture elements.

Other improvements to the Inspiron include a single hard drive capacity of 25GB--or a potential total hard drive capacity of up to 75GB by using extra drives--and 256MB memory modules. The design can also simultaneously accommodate a DVD-ROM drive, an LS-120 SuperDisk floppy drive, and CD-RW (rewritable) optical drive, according to sources.

The Latitude line will include a new CPx "desktop replacement" model with a 500-MHz Pentium III chip and improved technology such as a dual pointing device, more graphics memory, and a rewritable optical drive.

The gap between notebooks and desktops will be shortened when Intel releases the first mobile Pentium IIIs with "Geyserville" technology early in 2000. Geyserville micro-manages the speed that a processor runs at when unplugged. This will extend battery life as well as allow Intel to boost the processor speed to 600 MHz.

Improved process
Coppermine essentially is the code-name for the next generation of Pentium III processors. Current Pentium III chips are made on the 0.25-micron manufacturing process, a designation which means that several of the transistor-level components on the chip measure 0.25 microns in width. These processors also come with 512KB of cache, sort of a data reservoir, that comes on chips located close to the processor.

The new chips will be made on the 0.18-micron process, resulting in smaller, less-expensive, and faster chips. The smaller dimensions will also mean the chips will run cooler and allow Pentium IIIs to be put into notebooks for the first time.

Advancing the manufacturing process also permits Intel to integrate an "advanced transfer cache." The advance transfer cache contains 256KB of memory, but it's four times as fast as standard caches. In the end, the cumulative effect of these changes are cheaper processors that deliver a higher level of performance.'s Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.