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Intel rounds out mobile chip family

The company will be muscling in on a broader range of notebooks when it launches its Centrino chip family in March. What to expect: three versions of its low-power Banias.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Intel is making sure not to leave out the little notebooks when it introduces its Centrino chip family in March.

The company will unveil three versions of its low-power Pentium-M processor, formerly code-named Banias, as part of the Centrino package. Aside from coming out with a standard Pentium-M chip, which is expected to run at speeds ranging from 1.3GHz to 1.6GHz, the company will release two as-yet-undisclosed lower-power versions of the chip, sources close to the company said.

The new chips include an ultra-low-voltage Pentium-M that will debut at 900MHz and a low-voltage Pentium-M chip that will begin at 1.1GHz, according to the sources. The chips, along with the rest of the Centrino family, will allow Intel to target the full range of notebook models sold by manufacturers.

Like the standard Pentium-M chips, the low-voltage and ultra-low-voltage processors will be sold under Intel's new Centrino brand name when used with its new mobile chipset and wireless networking module.

"The Centrino mobile family will support all notebook segments from the full-size desktop replacement all the way to the ultraportable," said Shannon Johnson, an Intel spokeswoman.

Johnson declined to provide additional details on the chip family.

Intel has said its Pentium-M chips will deliver more performance and consume less power for full-size and thin-and-light notebooks than its Pentium III-M or Pentium 4-M. But the lower-power Pentium-M chips will run at even lower voltages and therefore consume less energy than a standard Pentium-M.

The low- and ultra-low-voltage Pentium-M versions should increase performance and battery life in the smallest notebooks--ultraportables and mini-notebooks that weigh 3 pounds or less---and tablet PCs. While tablet PCs based on Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software are fairly new to the market, mini-notebooks are popular in Japan and also among business executives who spend a lot of time on the road.

Power consumption is especially important for battery life in these machines, because they don't have large spaces to incorporate large internal batteries.

While battery life differs among notebook models and manufacturers, Intel is aiming to extend battery life with the Pentium-M chip by at least an hour, depending on the version. This could give some notebooks in the 5-pound range a battery life of six hours or more. Meanwhile, a tablet PC that gets three hours of battery life with a Pentium III-M chip would get about four hours with the Pentium-M.

Intel is eyeing the Pentium-M as its next flagship mobile processor. The chip is expected to replace its Pentium 4-M in business systems at first, while the low-power versions should provide a replacement for Intel's low-voltage and ultra-low-voltage Pentium III-M chips. The company is expected to begin phasing out the Pentium III-M chip, but its Pentium 4-M is likely to hang on in larger and consumer-oriented notebooks for some time.

While the new low-power Pentium-Ms will offer more performance and longer battery life than Pentium III-M chips, they aren't expected to cost much more. Intel likely will charge only a small premium for the new chips when they debut.

While the Pentium-M won't run as fast as the Pentium 4-M, Intel is looking to boost its performance by including a 1MB cache for storing a large amount of often-used data.