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Hybrid Pentium 4 finds home in laptops

Though not on public price sheets, the Pentium 4C low-power desktop chip has appeared in HP laptops. Is Intel trying to get notebook makers to stop using standard P4 desktop chips?

It's not quite a notebook chip and not quite a desktop chip, but Intel's Pentium 4C processor is managing to establish an identity for itself in a small niche of the consumer notebook market.

The 4C--which is not listed on Intel's public price sheets but currently comes in notebooks from Hewlett-Packard--appears to be geared toward weaning notebook manufacturers away from the money-saving strategy of putting desktop Pentium 4 chips into portables, analysts said.

The chip consumes less power than a standard desktop processor, making it more notebooklike, but it doesn't come with all the features found in the Pentium 4M line, Intel's family of mobile chips.

"It creates a middle price point in there" for manufacturers and consumers, said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Techworld.

Since the beginning of the year, major PC makers such as Toshiba and Gateway have come out with notebooks featuring Intel's desktop Pentium 4. While, at 7 to 8 pounds, these notebooks often tip the portability scale, and while they also drain a battery fairly rapidly, they can sell for hundreds of dollars less than notebooks equipped with a standard mobile chip.

Consumers have overlooked their shortcomings and embraced the so-called "desknotes." In a year when desktop sales are declining, notebook shipments continue to grow.

Part of the cost difference comes in the chip price. A 2.2GHz Pentium 4M costs $562, $369 more than the 2.2GHz Pentium 4 for desktops.

The Pentium 4C does not come with SpeedStep, an energy-saving technology found on the Pentium 4M, and other features, an Intel representative said. SpeedStep enables the 4M to cut down on energy consumption by reducing its clock speed when running on battery power.

The Pentium 4C, however, does come in the same type of metal and plastic packaging used by the mobile chip--and different from that of the regular desktop Pentium 4. That means the 4C can be used with the same kind of motherboard that's used with the mobile processor. The 4C also uses less energy than its desktop brethren.

The chip is offered at speeds of 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz and 1.6GHz, the representative said, adding that it's only available by special order and has largely been discontinued. Still, a number of HP Pavilion notebooks on the market today contain a "C" class chip, such as the company's ZT1270 and the XZ355 models.

Technically, the 4C is actually a desktop part, according to a source in the PC industry.

Unlike their notebook counterparts, which can run on 30 watts of power, Pentium 4 chips typically require 55 to 60 watts. That saps battery life if the chips are used in laptops. Pentium 4s also generate a substantial amount of heat, which forces engineers to surround them with fans and other insulating components, adding bulk to notebooks.

A small percentage of desktop chips, however, can run on 45 watts, closer to the 30 to 35 watts required by the mobile Pentium 4. Intel packages these more energy-efficient desktop chips under the "C" designation.

Although often used in notebooks, the chip has also found its way into some small desktops, the source said.

The proliferation of different types of chips can complicate the shopping process. In total, HP sells notebooks with five different types of chips--Pentium 4 desktop, Pentium 4M, Pentium 4C, Celeron, and AMD Athlon--through its Compaq and HP lines.