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Pentium II notebooks due April 2

Intel's fastest chip finally makes its way into laptops early next month.

Notebooks will finally incorporate Intel technology introduced more than two years ago when the chip giant unveils its first Pentium II processors for portables on April 2, according to major PC vendors and other sources.

Back in November 1995, Intel introduced its P6 architecture, the foundation of the Pentium Pro and the newer Pentium II. Both of these top-line chips have been featured prominently in desktop PCs, workstations, and servers, but never have they made it into portable computers. To date, this class of chip wreaked havoc on battery life and generated too much heat to be used in mobile PCs.

Vendors are ready. Both IBM and Hewlett-Packard will release new lines of notebooks measuring close to 1.5 inches thick and weighing just over 5 pounds that use the 233-MHz and 266-MHz version of the Pentium II mobile chip, sources said. The IBM ThinkPad 600 series will cost between $3,000 and $4,800. HP's OmniBook 4100 series will be that company's first product with this type of thin-and-wide design.

Meanwhile, NEC Computer Systems will preview a Versa notebook that measures only 1.3 inches thick and weighs 4.5 pounds but can accommodate a disk drive and extra batteries, said sources close to that company. Typically, manufacturers do not include extra batteries and extra drives for their thinnest notebooks.

Other notebook vendors that will release notebooks, or at least preview upcoming models, include Dell, Toshiba, Fujitsu, and Acer.

Intel will initially release 233-MHz and 266-MHz versions of the portable chip, according to sources. The chip will be part of the "Deschutes" family of Pentium II processors, meaning it will be made on an advanced manufacturing processor referred to as "0.25 micron," the successor to the 0.35-micron technology also used by Intel. The advanced 0.25-micron production process allows Intel to produce smaller circuits that consume less power and generate less heat.

Later in the year, mobile Pentium II chips will integrate the secondary, high-speed "cache" memory into the same piece of silicon as the processor, said Ashok Kumar, semiconductor analyst with Piper Jaffray. The "Level 2" cache memory on other Pentium II chips is inside the chip package but on a separate piece of silicon.

Integration of the critical cache memory not only cuts manufacturing costs, but also reduces the heat the chip produces because electrons will not have to travel between two separate pieces of silicon, noted Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Heat and power consumption have long been problems for the performance of Intel-based portable computers, various sources have said.

Ironically, analysts expect 1998 to be a big year for notebook sales, but not necessarily because of technological developments.

Notebook sales tend to follow a two-year upgrade cycle, said Mike McGuire, portable analyst for Dataquest. Sales spiked in 1994, especially in the third quarter, but in 1995, sales growth was off. Similarly, sales surged again in the third quarter in 1996 but dropped off in 1997.

For 1998, "there is a user perception that it is time to upgrade," added McGuire.

On the other side of the coin, 1995 and 1997 represented banner years for technological developments, especially compared to 1994 and 1996. The introduction of the Pentium to notebooks occurred in 1995 while 1997 brought the introduction of Pentium MMX chips made specifically for mobile products.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.