Tech Industry

Intel outlines mobile future

At the chipmaker's developer confab, executives describe how Intel is working to reduce power consumption in notebooks and to add communications muscle to portable computing devices.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Chipmaker Intel has given details of new initiatives aimed at reducing the power consumption of notebook displays and at adding communications capabilities to portable computing devices.

On Wednesday, the company launched the 855GME, a new chipset that features a power-saving technology for displays, at the Intel Developer Forum here. It also introduced the next-generation XScale processor for mobile devices, code-named Bulverde, which is designed to add computing capabilities to cell phones, wireless handhelds and similar gadgets.

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The announcements were made in a keynote speech, during which Intel executives also described a new blueprint for notebook PCs, called Sonoma. Sonoma, which represents a future generation of the company's Centrino mobile technology, comprises a processor, a chipset and a Wi-Fi wireless module. The chipmaker expects to make Sonoma available in the second half of 2004.

The main message of the presentation was that Intel is concentrating on reducing battery power consumption in portable devices that use its chips. By doing this, the Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker hopes to invigorate the portable device market.

"Through new usage models, we want to enable growth in the notebook space," said Anand Chandrasekher, vice president of the mobile platforms group at Intel.

The 855GME chipset will be designed to improve such power use by better managing the brightness and the use of the backlight in displays. Typically, the display is the component that drains the most power in a portable device. The chipset should lower the power consumption of a display backlight by up to 25 percent, but have little impact on the user's experience, according to the company.

Chandrasekher said that Dothan--a new version of the Pentium M processor with 140 million transistors--will ship in the fourth quarter. Dothan, which is expected to come with 2MB of cache, will be made on the 90-nanometer manufacturing process, which means that the average feature size of the chips will measure 90 nanometers. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.) This means that Dothan should be smaller than previous generations of chips and, over time, less expensive to make.

Dothan is expected to give a "nice performance boost," compared with existing Pentium M processors running at the same frequency, Chandrasekher said.

Polishing chips
Intel's Ron Smith, a senior vice president of the wireless communications and computing group, discussed some of the new features of the XScale chip Bulverde. Communications devices using the chip will be available in the first half of next year, according to company representatives.

Bulverde will use Intel's Wireless MMX multimedia technology. It is also expected to include Wireless SpeedStep, which aims to balance computing use and battery consumption, and Quick Capture, which integrates video camera functions into handheld devices.

As for the Sonoma package, it will combine a chipset, code-named Alviso; a wireless component with 802.11a/802.11b/802.11g support, called Calexico 2; and a future version of the Pentium M processor.

"You are going to have a better battery life, a better audio experience, a better connection to peripherals, and a better connection to wireless," said Chandrasekher, referring to Sonoma.

In addition, Sonoma is expected to include support for the Azalia audio interface; for the PCI Express connection technology for PCs and peripherals; and for Serial ATA, a high-speed interface standard for disk drives that cuts down on the cabling within PC boxes.

Executives also noted that Intel is working to add location-based computing capabilities and simplified network selection capabilities to future chips. It has also been investing in new battery technologies such as fuel cell and other alternatives, they said.

CNET's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.