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Intel helps notebooks catch up

Intel is making plans to close the performance gap between desktops and notebooks.

NEW YORK--Intel (INTC) is demonstrating to PC Expo attendees this week that it has plans for much faster mobile chips that will lessen the performance gap between desktops and notebooks. The plans include a mobile version of the Pentium II processor.

The company is showing a new circuit board--referred to as a "module"--that is designed to hold upcoming 200- and 233-MHz versions of the mobile Pentium MMX processor. Intel also demonstrated this week at PC Expo, for the first time publicly, its design for putting mobile versions of the Pentium II processor into notebooks.

The mobile Pentium II processor should go a long ways toward closing the performance gap between desktop and notebook PCs. Intel is offering Pentium IIs as fast as 300-MHz on the desktop, albeit at a high price, while notebook PCs are stuck at 166 MHz. This presents a problem for vendors who are trying to market notebooks as replacements for desktops.

The mobile Pentium II module won't be available, however, until 1998. In the meatime, IBM and Gateway 2000 are already expected to use the faster Pentium module, which will itself precipitate a dramatic increase in notebook speeds.

Cranking up the speed of Intel's mobile chips is a delicate undertaking because faster chips produce more heat and draw more power; a PC vendor can't just plug in a faster chip, it must wait for all the design components to be modified to accommodate new chips.

Intel expects the major notebook PC manufacturers to sign up for the new module as early as the fall, according to Jason Ziller, product marketing manager at Intel's Mobile Modules Operation in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Gateway's notebook PCs already use an early version of the Intel module with a 166-MHz MMX mobile Pentium.

In 1998, Intel will also bring out a module that uses a high-speed mobile Pentium II processor, based on a more advanced manufacturing process which results in a Pentium II which gives off less heat and draws less power, according to Ziller.

The Pentium II is in many respects similar to Intel's high-end Pentium Pro processor except in one critical respect: the Pentium II incorporates MMX technology while the Pentium Pro does not. Currently, the Pentium II for the desktop runs at 233, 266, and 300 MHz.

Ziller added that Gateway and any other PC manufacturer that uses the MMX Pentium module will be able to upgrade the notebooks to the Pentium II by swapping out the module. This will help Intel move the notebook market quickly to mobile Pentium II processors once the chips are ready.

Intel will also offer the new mobile Pentium II processor as a stand-alone processor, said Ziller.