Intel launches Dothan, new naming scheme

The chipmaker launches its new Pentium M chip family, along with a new naming system that de-emphasizes clock speed.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
5 min read
Intel on Monday lent a new name to its processors for notebook PCs.

The chipmaker unveiled three models of its latest Pentium M processor, a chip code-named Dothan, at an event in San Francisco. The company had originally planned to launch Dothan in February, but a glitch pushed back its introduction until now.

As part of the event, Intel also introduced a new naming scheme that uses a system of numbers, rather than relying primarily on clock speed. This naming system will be used to identify the three new Pentium Ms and will eventually identify most of Intel's PC chips.

Dothan Pentium Ms, which pair higher clock speed with performance enhancements such as extra Level 2 cache, for a total of 2MB, will offer performance increases of between 10 percent and 17 percent compared with previous Pentium M chips. At the same time, notebook with the chips will have about the same battery life, an important consideration for notebook owners who spend time traveling.

Intel added the extra oomph by adapting the chip so that it can be produced using the company's latest 90-nanometer manufacturing process. The newer process allows Intel to add the extra cache but hold the line on power consumption.

PC makers including Dell, Gateway, IBM and Toshiba have announced plans to offer the new Pentium Ms in notebooks of varying sizes, some of which will be geared toward businesses and others toward consumers, the chipmaker said.

"The idea of the processor number is to give you a feeling about the richness of the features."
--Mooly Eden,
Intel vice president

The Pentium M is the processor in Intel's Centrino bundle, which also includes a chipset, or group of helper chips, and a Wi-Fi module for wireless notebooks.

While Intel regularly updates its processors with higher clock speeds and improves features such as cache--the pool of memory that holds data close to the processor core for quick access--the company's use of numbers for names marks a major shift.

Until now, Intel has relied mainly on speed to help market its chips. The new system will seek to better reflect how clock speed, cache and bus speed combine to influence the overall performance of a processor. The bus is the pathway used to move data into and out of the processor.

"The idea of the processor number is to give you a feeling about the richness of the features" offered by the chips, said Mooly Eden, vice president and director of marketing for Intel's mobile products group.

Because Intel offers a variety of chips with different speeds, cache sizes and other features inside the same product lines, it was often difficult for consumers to tell the difference when the chips were marketed based on clock speed alone.

Given that the company wants to expand the presence of the Pentium M and the Centrino bundle in the consumer market, the company wanted to offer an easier way for people to compare different processors. To date, the Pentium M has seen less success in the consumer space than among businesses, at least in part because the company aimed it first at businesses. Since the latter half of last year, however, the company has picked up its efforts to market Pentium M to consumers.

Although the new naming system might prove confusing to some at first, "at the end of the day, I believe it will be good for the consumer," Eden said.

The three Pentium Ms released Monday are the 735, the 745 and the 755. The 735 runs at 1.7GHz, includes 2MB of cache and a 400MHz bus. The 745 runs at 1.8GHz and the 755 runs at 2GHz.

The successively higher numbers are designed to reflect successively better performance. The naming system is not unlike that of Advanced Micro Devices, whose three-digit Opteron model numbers are also designed to reflect the successively higher performance of that chip. AMD began using a number system with its Athlon XP PC chip two years ago.

Intel's new naming system is just one of a number of changes at company recently, as evidenced by a 64-bit capable version of its Xeon server chip, which competes against the Opteron.

In addition, the chipmaker revealed Friday that it plans to redraw its desktop processor plans for 2005. As part of a shift in strategies, the company will move to dual-core processors--PC chips that include two processor cores instead of the traditional single one--earlier than previously planned, taking the company away from single processors with large caches.

Over time, Intel will add Pentium 4 chips with processor numbers in the 500s and Celerons with numbers in the 300s.

While Dothan Pentium Ms will offer more performance, they won't cost extra. The new Pentium M chips will cost $294 for the 735, $423 for the 745, and $637 for the 755. The latter is the same price as the original 1.6GHz Pentium M at its introduction.

Several brand-name PC makers on Monday unveiled plans to offer the new Pentium M chips. Dell, for one, is offering them in its Latitude D800 for businesses and the Inspiron 8600 for consumers. The Inspiron 8600 will list for $1,649 with the Pentium M 745 and a 15.4-inch widescreen UXGA display, while a Latitude D800 will start at about $1,900 with a Pentium M 735 and a 15.4-inch widescreen WXGA screen, according to Dell's Web site.

IBM plans to offer the Pentium Ms in a new ThinkPad T42 model. The machine, which is scheduled to ship in late May, will offer either a 14-inch or 15-inch screen and will come with a Pentium M 745 for a starting price of $1,599, the company said.

Gateway will offer the chips in three notebook models, at first, starting with its Gateway M405, Gateway 450XL and Gateway M275 convertible tablet PC, the company said.

Intel also dropped prices on existing versions of the Pentium M chip on Sunday. The price of the 1.5GHz Pentium M was lowered by 13 percent to $209, while the 1.7GHz Pentium M dropped 30 percent to $294.