Intel shows off new mobile chips

The chipmaker announces at WinHEC its production of its first prototypes of the upcoming "Banias" processor, the company's first chip purely designed for use in mobile PCs.

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Stephen Shankland
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SEATTLE--Intel has produced its first prototypes of the upcoming "Banias" processor, the company's first chip purely designed for use in mobile PCs, the company announced at WinHEC on Thursday.

Intel Labs produced the first test version of the chip during the past week, Intel President Paul Otellini said in a speech at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference. Banias systems, including Intel's Odem chipset, will come out in early 2003 and feature 802.11b "Wi-Fi" wireless networking, long battery life and uncompromised performance, he said.

"It is the first bottom-up product designed for notebook computers that does not compromise performance," Otellini said.

Banias is an "entirely new micro architecture" employing different circuitry, Otellini said in an interview after the speech. The system's 802.11 support initially will come with separate chips, but those will gradually be integrated with the other chipset components, he said.

Banias will compete with new processors from Advanced Micro Devices and Transmeta, which have energized the market for laptops with chips that consume less power. Banias can run the same software programs as the Pentium 4 or Pentium III, but from a design perspective, it differs from those chips.

To cut energy consumption, Banias automatically shuts off its different subcomponents when not in use. Although it's designed for notebooks, the chip will also appear in thin "blade" servers.

Banias isn't the only chip fresh out of Intel. Otellini showed off a silicon wafer with "Madison" chips, the third generation of its top-end 64-bit Itanium family. "This is one of the first Madison wafers. We've had this silicon for about a week," Otellini said.

Intel did not demonstrate Madison working in an actual computer or disclose when the chip would be delivered. The chip will be based on the same designs as McKinley, a new version of Itanium coming this quarter, but it will have 6MB of high-speed "cache" memory built in. Intel spokesman Seth Walker said the chip is due in 2003.

McKinley, which Otellini said will go into production "midyear," is built on a 180-nanometer process and has about 220 million transistors. Madison is built on a 130-nanometer process and has about 500 million transistors, he said.

Otellini also said that Intel's hyper-threading technology, which lets a single processor act in some ways like two, will debut in desktop Pentium 4 systems in 2003. Hyper-threading currently is available only on Intel's top-end Xeon version of the Pentium 4 and is enabled in servers but not workstations. The technology allows two different applications to use different components of a microprocessor simultaneously.

For the first time publicly, Intel demonstrated Pentium 4-based desktop computers with hyper-threading, showing air-cooled systems with 3GHz processors running Microsoft video encoding and decoding software. The hyper-threading-enabled system runs about 20 percent faster than its comrade, according to Otellini.

Intel, which has acquired several communications chip companies in recent years, says it believes the computing and communication industries will converge in coming years.

Boosting this trend in 2003 will be a new chip from Intel that combines newer "2.5G" GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) cell phone communication abilities, memory, and a central processing unit that can run Microsoft's Windows CE .Net operating system, the company said.

The phone chip will combine an XScale processor, Intel's StratFlash flash memory, and its MicroSignal digital signal processor, Otellini said. It's planned to be in phones by 2003.

The 2.5G phones, which provide faster networking speeds than the second-generation, or 2G, phones in widespread use today, are still in their nascent phases of adoption, Otellini said. "We're aiming ahead of the curve in terms of where the market is going," Otellini said.

Intel is engaged in an arms race with Texas Instruments, Motorola and others to become the dominant power for chips in cell phones and handhelds. Both TI and Motorola have far longer histories than Intel in this business, but Intel claims that its extensive manufacturing expertise and strength, not to mention its huge flash memory business, will work to its advantage.