Mobile processor battle heats up

Intel on Monday will introduce what a source close to the company called "the fastest mobile processors in the industry," two of which arrive with a new twist from Intel: single-watt power consumption, a benchmark formally held exclusively by Transmeta's Crusoe processor.

Intel will unveil five processors, readied for all three classes of mobile computing: full-size, meaning laptops weighing more than six pounds; thin and light, weighing less than six pounds, and ultra light, weighing less than three pounds, the source said.

For both the full-size, and thin and light category, Intel will offer a 750MHz Pentium III and two mobile Celeron processors running at both 650MHz and 600MHz.

For the ultra-light category, Intel will announce a breakthrough Pentium III SpeedStep processor running at somewhere near the 600MHz mark and consuming only one watt of power, according to the source.

Also for the ultra light portables, Intel will unveil a mobile Celeron processor that performs at a single speed of 500MHz while consuming less than 2 watts of power.

Monday's announcement from Intel will spark new competition between the chipmaker and Transmeta, which recently announced that its low-power Crusoe processor will appear in a jointly branded America Online/Gateway 2000 Internet appliance by the Christmas shopping season.

Crusoe is X86-compatible, and offers performance roughly comparable to Intel's Pentium II or Pentium III processor when running at the same frequency on Linux, according to Transmeta officials. Like the new Intel chips, Crusoe's low-power features make it ideal for mobile computing. Crusoe also incorporates a Transmeta technology called Long Run, which adjusts the processor frequency on the fly, depending on overall system needs.

But unlike Intel's Speedstep technology and Advanced Micro Devices' PowerNow, which also adjust frequencies while operational but possess a limited number of adjustable frequency points, Transmeta's Long Run has a large number of dynamic ramps, depending on the processor load, to make optimal use of the CPU without burning unnecessary power.

"I think [Intel is] recognising that notebooks and laptops are more productivity aids rather than analysis workhorses, so power-saving features are a little more preferred," said Richard Partridge, an analyst at D.H. Brown & Associates.

"Intel will continue to offer the workhorse processors, but they might have finally realised that when I perform my next crash analysis of my mini-van, I probably won't be doing it sitting on a beach," Partridge said.

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