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Intel's flagship chip goes mobile

The chipmaker launches the Pentium 4-M, the first mobile version of its Pentium 4 processor. Will the chip's extra performance be a boon to notebook sales?

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Notebooks packing Pentium 4
Don MacDonald, director of mobile platforms, Intel
Intel is bringing more power to people on the go.

The chipmaker on Monday launched the Pentium 4-M, the first mobile version of its flagship Pentium 4 processor.

Intel said the new chip offers clock speeds of 1.6GHz to 1.7GHz, increases the speed of the front side bus from 133MHz to 400MHz and adds faster Double Data Rate SDRAM memory technology for an overall performance increase of as much as 49 percent compared with its top-of-the-line 1.2GHz Pentium III-M chip.

With the extra performance on tap from the Pentium 4-M, many analysts expect consumers to adopt notebooks in greater numbers. At the same time, PC makers are counting on corporations to begin buying PCs and notebooks again after the shrinking economy of 2001 caused them to put hardware upgrades on hold.

PC makers, including Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, rallied behind Intel on Monday by announcing new, high-end notebooks based on the Pentium 4-M chip.

The average price of these new notebooks is about $2,500, although Intel said it would work as quickly as possible to drive down the price using the Pentium 4-M.

PC makers began taking orders on the new notebooks Monday, but most won't ship them until later in the month, Intel said. Sources familiar with the Pentium 4-M launch suggested its final date was moved up about three weeks to match buying cycles in places like Japan, the second-largest market for notebooks.

Intel intends to help things along by proliferating the Pentium 4-M even more quickly than it did its desktop Pentium 4, which debuted November 2000, said Don MacDonald, director of mobile platforms for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel.

"We expect this to be a very aggressive ramp," MacDonald said.

Intel isn't alone in its desire to increase notebook market share. Advanced Micro Devices plans to introduce new mobile chips later this month. Those introductions, including a faster version of its mobile Athlon XP chip aimed at matching the performance of the new Pentium 4-M, are expected to come at Germany's CeBit trade show, which starts March 13.

While the new Pentium 4-M offers greater clock speed and performance than Intel's Pentium III-M, concerns have been raised about the chip's power consumption and the effect it will have on notebook battery life.

Intel says that because of tricks it employed, such as a deeper sleep mode that the chip slips into when not in use, the Pentium 4-M consumes about the same amount of electricity as the fastest Pentium III-Ms, and as such should not significantly impact notebook battery life. At least one PC maker, MicronPC, backed this up, according to a company representative.

Aiming high
PC makers will woo consumers by pitching their first Pentium 4-M models as high-end machines, worthy of gamers and other PC connoisseurs.

Dell, for example, will position its new Pentium 4-M-based Inspiron 8200 as a "performance system that's portable...for folks who want to replace a desktop with a notebook," said Gretchen Cole, director of marketing for Inspiron at Dell. "There's really no reason from a performance perspective that with the...(mobile) Pentium 4 you would need to buy a desktop."

Dell isn't alone. Most PC makers have outfitted their new Pentium 4-M notebooks with the best available components, including high-resolution 15-inch screens, hard drives in the 40GB to 60GB range, and top of-the-line graphics from Nvidia and ATI Technologies.

Not surprisingly, the combination of the new chip and high-end features means a higher price tag. But Intel is expected to lower prices on the chips quickly as part of an effort to get the Pentium 4-M into the mainstream, with entry-level notebooks eventually priced starting around $999, sources said.

Indeed, analysts say higher prices have slowed the migration to notebooks, even if today's high-end models cost less on average than those of one or two years ago.

"I don't think it's the (Pentium 4-M's) megahertz that's going to change the mix between notebooks and desktops," IDC analyst Alan Promisel. "If anything, it's the price that's going to change it. Whether it's the technology itself or it's Intel's marketing muscle, we could see the mix change" by the second half of this year.

Intel lists the new 1.6GHz Pentium 4-M for $401 and the new 1.7GHz version for $508.

Moving the market
According to sources, Intel will help move the market along by introducing 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz versions of the Pentium 4-M in late April. These chips are expected to allow PC makers to offer Pentium 4-M-based notebooks closer to the $1,500 mark, sources said.

Dell, for example, plans to follow Intel's lead and transition from Pentium III-M to Pentium 4-M quickly.

"By the holiday buying season, my guess is that you're going to see Pentium 4-M everywhere," Cole said.

PC makers launched a host of new systems Monday. Compaq's new Presario, for example, is a 6.4 pound machine that features a 15-inch display, the 1.7GHz Pentium 4-M and a 60GB hard drive. It will start around $2,000, the company said.

Dell will offer its Pentium 4-M-based Inspiron 8200 notebook for a price starting at about $1,700. However, a configuration that includes the 1.7GHz chip, a 15-inch display, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a combination CD-RW/DVD drive and an Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go graphics board with 64MB of memory will cost about $2,900. Dell also announced a new Pentium 4-M Latitude C840 notebook with a similar configuration for about $2,600.

HP will offer the Pentium 4-M in three different notebooks, including a Pavilion zt1000, priced about $2,299. The company also launched the Omnibook 6200, with two models priced between $1,800 and $3,200. The notebooks will offer configurations similar to Dell's and other manufacturers, including 15-inch displays, hard drives up to 40GB and combination CD-RW/DVD drives, the company said.

Toshiba will launch several new computers, including a Satellite 5105 model with the 1.7GHz chip, a high-resolution 15-inch display, 40GB hard drive, combination CD-RW/DVD drive and the Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go graphics board with 32MB of memory. It will sell for $2,499. The company will also offer Pentium 4-M-based Tecra and Satellite Pro models priced from $2,399 to about $2,999.

MicronPC will update its Transport GX notebook line with the Pentium 4-M. A new Transport GX3 with the 1.7GHz processor and a 15-inch screen will start at $2,584, the company said.

Gateway and IBM are likely to launch their Pentium 4-M notebooks a little later. IBM is expected to announce a Pentium 4-M ThinkPad later in the week. Gateway is likely to wait a bit longer to issue its new Pentium 4-M notebooks.

Looking ahead, Intel is expected to bump up the clock speed of the Pentium 4-M to 2GHz by the end of the year.

As for the Pentium III-M, it will become a rare bird in most consumer-oriented systems although PC makers will continue to offer the chip for their corporate customers. But it is likely that future use of the Pentium III-M will be as a low-power chip for the thinnest and lightest notebooks.

AMD, meanwhile, is likely, at a minimum, to introduce a successor to its mobile Athlon XP 1500+ chip. Although the 1500+ chip runs at 1.3GHz, AMD says it can match or exceed the performance of a 1.5GHz Pentium 4.