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IBM hooks up with Intel on notebook circuit board

IBM plans to use Intel's notebook circuit board technology in its next-generation P55C notebooks.

Although Intel (INTC) has been touting its notebook circuit board for a while, the first major notebook PC manufacturer to endorse the technology surfaced this week when IBM (IBM) acknowledged that it plans to use the Intel technology in its next-generation P55C-Pentium-processor based notebooks.

The two companies are already working together to develop a processor circuit board for the next-generation notebooks based on P55C mobile Pentium processors. The circuit board is due in the first quarter of 1997 and is expected to include the MMX-capable 166-MHz P55C Mobile Pentium processor and part of the chipset. In short, the core electronics for a notebook PC.

"We're working on this jointly with Intel," said Steve Ward, general manager for IBM's mobile computing division, which builds the ThinkPad line of notebooks.

Although this board is not necessary to build a P55C processor-based notebook, moving to a new generation of mobile processor is a painstaking process because the main circuit board in most cases has to be completely redesigned. With this circuit board, vendors will be able to move to new-generation processors by plugging in a new module.

Whether this technology is strictly an IBM-Intel joint development project or whether they will share the results is not clear because both companies declined comment on whether they will license the design to other vendors. Intel did say, however, that it is working with three of the top five notebook vendors on comparable circuit board technology.

The circuit board developments should accelerate the pace at which IBM and other notebook manufacturers move to new Intel mobile processor technology in 1997 and 1998, analysts say.

"This will result in much more rapid introduction and much more diversity" in notebooks, said Dean McCarron, a principal at Scottsdale, Arizona-based Mercury Research. "Vendors can use the same base frame to support a wider variety of products."

MMX is an Intel technology that speeds up multimedia applications, including video, sound, and communications. All new Intel processors will feature MMX in 1997.

But this IBM-Intel board may be capable of handling a second generation of P55C processors coming out late in 1997 running at lower voltages and higher speeds, sources said.

Analysts say that with the notebook circuit board, Intel is at the same point it reached several years ago in building motherboards for the desktop PCs. It took Intel years before it was able to persuade large PC manufacturers to adopt the Intel motherboard technology, but it did eventually succeed.

Maybe because of the desktop precedent, observers said there appears to more of an acceptance of the notebook circuit technology. "There was concern at first that it would make systems larger and more expensive, but it's gone through several iterations and OEMs seem pleased with it," McCarron said.

McCarron also said that the P55C processor for notebook computers will increase performance significantly over plain Pentiums, even without MMX applications. McCarron believes users will see an increase over traditional Pentiums of 10 percent to 15 percent.