Power-frugal Intel chips to spawn new laptops

The most power efficient of Intel's Core i series of processors will debut in new laptops, starting this month.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

The most power efficient of Intel's new series of mobile processors will start appearing in new laptops in February, according to the chipmaker.

Sony Vaio Y series uses Intel ULV processors
Sony Vaio Y series uses Intel ultra-low-voltage processors Sony

The Core i3, i5, and i7 processors are slated to replace most of Intel's older generation of Core 2 processors across its mobile, desktop, and server lines. At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Intel introduced mainstream mobile processors based on the Core i design--the Core i3 and i5.

Though laptops using Intel's standard-power Core i mobile processors have already hit store shelves en masse, systems using the chipmaker's ultra-low-voltage, or ULV, Core i processors will begin to appear "in early February," according to an Intel representative. These new processors include the i5-520UM and i7-640UM. Because ULV chips consume relatively little power, they are used in laptop designs in order to offer longer battery life.

High-profile laptop lines that currently use Intel's older Core 2 ULV chips include the Dell Adamo, Toshiba Portege R600, Sony Vaio Y, and Hewlett-Packard Envy 13. The most widely used processors have been the SU9400 and SU9600. Dell, last week, began offering steep discounts on its Adamo laptops that use the SU9400, cutting prices by about $500.

With the new i3 and i5, Intel is changing the way it rates power efficiency to account for the new "Arrandale" chip design that packages the graphics silicon together with the main Intel processor.

A Core i chip rated at 18 watts will now be considered a ULV processor, compared with the 10-watt rating of the older Core 2 technology. This is done to account for the additional power load of the graphics circuits that, before, were in a separate chip package called the chipset.

To date, Apple's MacBook Air has used Core 2 low-power processors but the Air's processors run at relatively high speeds of 1.86GHz or 2.13GHz, higher than ULV-designated chips in other ultrathin laptops, and therefore are not as power efficient.

Though Apple is expected to use Core i5 processors in its upcoming MacBook Pro lineup, it is not yet clear which processor Apple would opt for in a new MacBook Air model--if indeed Apple is planning an imminent update for this model.