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Industry to study notebook heat

Leading hardware and software vendors next week will convene an industry consortium dedicated to studying a looming problem in the notebook world: heat.

The Mobile Power Initiative, a committee of leading hardware and software providers, will seek to address a looming problem in the notebook world: heat.

Prominent hardware and software vendors next week will convene an industry consortium dedicated to studying heat generation and dissipation in notebooks.

The issue has become particularly pressing as Intel will introduce the P6 architecture into notebooks by mid-1998. To date, the P6-architecture-based Pentium Pro and Pentium II processors have been found only in high-end desktops, workstations, and servers. For good reason: These powerful processors consume a great deal of power and give off a lot of heat, making them an anthema to notebooks.

Intel has been promising that the transition from Pentium MMX to Pentium II will be relatively easy because the new module, or small circuit board, that Intel's notebook chips come on will also be able to accommodate the first generation of mobile Pentium II processors. But many notebook manufacturers are skeptical because they face formidable power and heat problems with Pentium II designs. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network).

As a result, the Mobile Power Initiative will hold its first symposium on September 17.

Of all the factors to contend with in notebook design, the most daunting is probably heat generated by the processor. Increased heat forces vendors to devise new forms of insulation, such as using different alloys on internal components or creating better heat dissipation channels.

"There will be some [notebook design] implications," said Greg Munster, product marketing manager for the mobile computing division at Hewlett-Packard. "The Pentium II is a different processor. You have to design to a common denominator," he noted, referring to the design constraints that the processor creates. "You'll see a lot of innovations in terms of thermal management," added Munster.

The upcoming Pentium II processors present a number of challenges, said Steve Ward, general manager for mobile computing at IBM. The most critical is that the mobile Pentium II concentrates a great deal of heat into a small space, he says. "I can see a lot of people [making] ultrathin [notebooks] are going to have a lot of problems when it come to this," he said.

Ward claims that IBM is prepared for the heat issue. The new ThinkPad 770 lines dissipate heat across a larger surface of the computer, he said. As a result, the average and maximum running temperatures of these machines are lower than current standards.

Although hardware designs will be a prime subject for participants of the Mobile Power Initiative, Intel's Frank Spindler, director of marketing for the mobile handheld products group, said that the group will take an organic approach to notebook functionality. That means looking at software code: An application's repeated calls to the processor while the application is running increases heat.

"It will address the long-term need for efficiency in hardware and system software," he said. "We need to look at how to make software more efficient...how to write code to be more power efficient."

All of this will be critical to the Pentium II's successful application in notebooks. Reducing temperatures opens the door to a number of benefits: Batteries last longer and computer makers can slim down products because the chassis requires less thermal protection.