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Intel notches up mobile chips

The chipmaker will release over the next few weeks several faster Pentium M and Pentium 4-M processors for notebooks--and mark a shift in its mobile strategy.

Intel will redraw its mobile road map next month.

The chipmaker will, over the next few weeks, release several faster Pentium M and mobile Pentium 4 processors for notebook PCs. The new mobile chips will mark a shift in strategy for Intel. With the Pentium M--the processor that forms the core of its Centrino chip family for wireless notebooks--taking hold in the market, the company will change the mission of its mobile Pentium 4, also known as the Pentium 4-M, by boosting its clock speed to appeal more to consumers.

Intel will start the process next week, when it plans to boost the speed of its Pentium M to 1.7GHz, sources familiar with its plans said. Currently, Intel's fastest Pentium M runs at 1.6GHz.

Also on tap is the delivery new low voltage and ultra-low voltage Pentium M chips running at 1.2GHz and 1GHz, respectively. These chips are designed to consume less power than a standard Pentium M, making them ideal for helping to preserve battery life in smaller notebooks, which typically weigh four pounds or less. Currently, the low voltage and ultra-low voltage Pentium M chips run at 1GHz and 900MHz, respectively.

Manufacturers are likely to widely adopt the 1.7GHz Pentium M, adding it to existing notebook lines. Meanwhile, the new low voltage and ultra-low voltage Pentium M chips should give a boost to smaller notebooks and tablet PCs. The upcoming 1GHz ultra-low voltage Pentium M, in particular, should prove enticing for tablet PC makers, who just recently began switching from the Pentium III-M to the Pentium M.

With the Pentium M taking over the role as Intel's top-of-the-line notebook processor, the chipmaker will begin remaking its Pentium 4-M. It plans to de-emphasize the Pentium 4-M as a brain for lightweight, business notebooks and to shift it toward delivering clock speeds of 3GHz and higher for performance-hungry consumers.

Out to pasture
Because it can now sell the Pentium M chip for thinner and lighter notebooks--a role the current Pentium 4-M and Pentium III-M chips had been filling--Intel can put the Pentium III-M out to pasture and turn up the clock speed of Pentium 4-Ms, which had been held back at 2.5GHz to help curb power consumption.

As previously reported, Intel will achieve the faster clock speeds of the Pentium 4-M by offering a new version of the chips that is more similar to a desktop Pentium 4. The new Pentium 4-M chip is expected to consume less electricity than Intel's current desktop Pentium 4. Through the combination of price, lower power and packaging--the chips are also expected to plug into standard notebook motherboards--the new Pentium 4-M is designed to be more easily incorporated into notebooks than the desktop Pentium 4, which is used in many manufacturers' consumer notebooks now.

One of the reasons for the change in Intel's plans for the Pentium 4-M has been the widespread use of desktop Pentium 4 chips in notebooks by manufacturers who are targeting consumers.

These more desktop-like Pentium 4-M chips will also debut in June. Intel expects that manufacturers using standard desktop Pentium 4 chips in their notebooks will switch to the new Pentium 4-Ms fairly quickly. The new chips are already shipping to PC manufacturers, a source familiar with Intel's plans said.

Aside from higher clock speed, the main attraction of the new Pentium 4-M should be its price. The new chip is expected to come without a huge premium in price, in sharp contrast to previous versions.

Currently, for example, the 1.6GHz Pentium M, for example, costs up to $637. Its price is higher than that of the current 2.5GHz Pentium 4-M, which lists for $562. By contrast, the new top-of-the-line Pentium 4-M is expected to cost only a few dollars more than Intel's desktop 3.06GHz Pentium 4 chip, which lists at $401.

The new Pentium 4-M is expected to come out at several speeds, with the highest reaching 3.06GHz. The new chips will also gain features not previously available on Pentium 4-M processors, including a 533MHz bus for shuttling data to and from the processor and, eventually, Intel's hyper-threading technology, which boosts the computer's performance when it is completing multiple tasks simultaneously. The Pentium 4-M is currently a 400MHz bus chip and does not have hyper-threading.

Whereas the newest Pentium M chips will be used mainly in business-oriented notebooks that emphasize lower weight and longer battery life, the new Pentium 4-M chips will mainly keep consumers in mind and will power so-called desktop-replacement notebooks. These machines, also referred to as desknotes, are designed to offer relatively high performance at an inexpensive price for consumers.

Desknotes, which are popular among buyers at retail in the United States and Europe, emphasize screen size and processing power. Their basic design, which usually incorporates a floppy and a CD drive, requires compromises in larger size, greater weight and shorter battery life than those based on the Pentium M or other less power-hungry chips. But most consumers, who don't use their machine on the road very often, don't seem to mind, focusing instead on price and performance.

Meanwhile, to avoid letting down its vendors that are selling existing Pentium 4-M notebooks, Intel plans to ship at least one more classic Pentium 4-M chip. That chip, a 2.6GHz Pentium 4-M, will also come in June, sources familiar with Intel's plans said.

June will be a busy month for Intel, but the chipmaker also plans to introduce several more new mobile chips as the year progresses. This summer it should release faster mobile Celerons. Intel also will update its Centrino chip family during the third quarter with a new Intel Pro radio module that offers support for 802.11a and 802.11b wireless networking. It will follow with a module that supports 802.11 b and 802.11g formats. The company's next-generation Pentium M, dubbed Dothan, will also appear later in the year.