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Intel pushes into notebook market

Intel will begin an aggressive push into the notebook PC space next month when it ships the first of a series of desktop-class processors.

Further evidence of Intel's (INTC) aggressive push into the notebook PC space will surface next month when the company brings the first of a series of desktop-class processors to the notebook PC market. The processors will quickly find their way into redesigned, high-speed Pentium MMX laptops.

New notebook offerings will include extrawide, "megaportable" machines sporting giant 14-inch screens as well as smaller machines weighing five pounds or less. Processor speeds will jump from today's maximum of 166 MHz to a high of 233 MHz next month, matching the performance of the fastest desktop Pentium processors.

For the first time, this will put Intel-based Pentium notebooks on equal footing with desktop computers. This leveling of the Pentium playing field includes the use of other high-performance internal electronics such as Intel's powerful 82430TX chipset for notebooks, which wrings more performance out of Pentium MMX processors.

Virtually all of the major manufacturers are expected to come out with souped-up notebooks in the third or fourth quarter, said Rob Enderle, senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group.

The machines should fall into the $3,500 to $4,000 range but then drop to $2,000 by the middle of next year as systems containing mobile Pentium II processors come out, Enderle said.

Behind much of this is Intel's newfound enthusiasm for all aspects of a notebook's internal electronics. The company's buyout of Chips and Technologies gives it for the first time a graphics chip to put in notebooks. The company is also working on a host of new notebook circuit boards, referred to as "modules," which will serve to ease transitions from one generation of processors to another. These modules are important since Intel can put most of the core electronics on them and, like it has done in the desktop PC market, continue to aggressively drive the market forward.

The faster Pentium chip for notebooks, code-named Tillamook and due next month, is, like its counterparts in desktops, a Pentium with MMX technology, but it uses less power, a requirement for the small confines of a portable computer. It is expected to run at 200 MHz and 233 MHz, and later at 266 MHz.

Many of these new Tillamook processors will come on Intel's mobile module. "The mobile module will support multiple generations of Intel processors," said Frank Spindler, director of marketing for the mobile and hand-held products group at Intel. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network). It will not only allow computer makers to adopt faster microprocessors more rapidly than today, but it will also likely drive down costs by standardizing some points of the design, said Spindler.

The current module is made for standard notebooks, with a thickness ranging down to 1.5 inches, he said. To accommodate various designs, Intel will likely also come out with different types of modules, he said. This will include modules that go into small ultralights and subnotebooks. "We expect to continue to see new directions in form factors, more of the Libretto," he said. The Libretto is the sub-two-pound computer released earlier by Toshiba. In the Japanese market, IBM has also been selling an ultra-small subnotebook like the Libretto, and the machine has already made its way into at least one computer store in Sunnyvale, California.

Some vendors, however, are expected to push the design envelope in other ways. Mitsubishi, for instance, is working on a Tillamook-based computer for the U.S. market with a 14-inch screen that measures less than an inch thick and weighs approximately five pounds, said a source.

Most of the notebooks utilizing the 14-inch screen are expected to come in at a hefty eight to nine pounds, said Gerry Purdy, chief executive of Mobile Insights, who calls the new form factor the "megaportable." It will mark the new high end of the market, he added.

Besides processor speed and screen size, software innovations will also make their way to the notebook arena. Software for remote management and improved videoconferencing are expected in the near future, said Spindler.