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Intel brings out low-cost laptop chips

The chipmaker hopes to bring wireless computing to the masses with the Celeron M, a discount version of its Pentium M processor for notebooks.

Intel on Monday introduced a budget chip for notebooks that the company hopes will bring wireless computing to the masses.

The Celeron M is a discount version of the Pentium M processor, which came out last March. The new chip is based around the same processor core, but comes with a 512KB secondary cache and runs at slower speeds, Intel said Monday. Last year, company executives said a budget version of Celeron would come in early 2004.

Pentium Ms come with a 1MB cache, and a new version of the Pentium M, code-named Dothan, that is due to debut in February will have a 2MB cache. Later, Dothan will be complemented by an improved chipset for better data throughput.

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Generally, larger caches and new chipsets (bundles of chips that support processors) are added to increase performance.

Like the Pentium M, the Celeron M will contain features designed to cut down on energy consumption--a key consideration for wireless notebooks--but it won't have as many. The Celeron M, for example, doesn't include Intel's SpeedStep technology, which allows the processor to slow down and conserve energy when a computer is running on batteries.

The new chip family should help Intel pursue its strategy of making Wi-Fi more popular in retail. In Japan and Europe, consumers have already begun to gravitate toward smaller, lighter notebooks with wireless functionality. In the United States, however, consumers still favor large, often heavy notebooks with desktop-class processors. Typically, U.S. consumers picking up wireless laptops are experienced buyers on their second or third notebook, according to analysts.

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Ad campaigns and new products, such as Wi-Fi chips that can handle 802.11g and 802.11a wireless traffic, will also be part of a Celeron push in 2004, according to Intel.

Still, the company will have to grapple with the megahertz gap the M line has created. The Pentium and Celeron Ms are based on a different design to that of the Pentium 4. Although the M family of chips competes well on benchmark tests with standard Pentiums and Celerons, they run at much lower speeds than those chips.

The new Celeron M has a maximum speed of 1.3GHz, while the standard Celeron for notebooks tops out at 2.5GHz. Consumers tend to focus on the megahertz number when choosing a notebook and whether buyers will wean themselves away from that approach remains to be seen.

In all, three new chips debuted on Monday: a 1.3GHz and a 1.2GHz Celeron M, and an ultralow voltage version that runs at 800MHz. The 1.3GHz and 1.2GHz processors run on 1.356 volts and have a thermal envelope (a measure of maximum power consumption) of 24.5 watts. The 800MHz runs on 1.004 volts and has a thermal envelope of 7 watts.

Motion Computing has begun shipping a tablet PC with the 800MHz chip.

The 1.3GHz and 1.2GHz processors sell for $134 and $107, respectively, in 1,000 unit quantities, while the 800MHz version sells for $161 in the same quantities.