Mobile chip onslaught

Intel is taking the competition to rival chip maker Transmeta with the launch of five mobile processors, including two low-power chips.

The new processors include mobile Pentium IIIs running at 750MHz and 600MHz, and a trio of mobile Celerons running at 650MHz, 600MHz and 500MHz.

The 600MHz Pentium III is the first performance processor from Intel to consume less than one watt of power on average, making it well suited for use in ultra-portable notebooks such as Sony's Vaio, officials said. The processor has been designed in such a way that it can drop its power consumption when the processor is not actually doing any work, the officials saidAlso aimed at the ultra-portable market is the 500MHz Celeron, which consumes less than two watts of power on average, Intel officials said. The Celeron family is aimed at the value segment of the PC market.

However, Intel officials would not be drawn on exactly how much additional battery life the power-saving chips will bring. Battery life depends on a multitude of factors, most of which have more to do with overall design of a PC than the processor itself, said Frank Spindler, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobile products group.

"If everything else [in the PC system] is identical, you should see more and more performance without any sacrifice to battery life," Spindler said.

Recently, Transmeta's Crusoe chip was chosen to operate a jointly branded Internet Appliance (IA) from partners Gateway 2000 and America Online.

Intel's announcement moves the company one step closer to the expected launch of its own branded Internet Appliance (IA), a product that sources close to the company have said will arrive by the end of this year.

The first Intel IA offering, a device with an integrated phone receiver and 14in CRT screen, will run a version of the Linux operating system, according to one source.

The use of the Crusoe processor and Intel's new low-power PIIIs, both mobile PC processors, in desktop IAs stems from the ability of these low-watt processors to optimise the Web browsing experience. According to one source within Intel, Internet content is increasingly geared toward mobile and handheld-device browsing.

"There are some advantages to browser technology for which these [processors] could be applied to Internet Appliances," Spindler agreed.

Low-watt power requirements for the new Intel processors are based solely on the power needs of the processor, and not the overall system requirements of any particular product, that when totalled, can run as high as 15.8 watts overall power drain, depending on manufacturer configuration, Spindler added.

Reach for the lows

Building low-power processors has become a significant focus for chipmakers, as users seek out notebooks with longer battery life. Transmeta sent a ripple through the PC chip industry in January when it launched its Crusoe chips, which the company claimed can be used to build notebooks with all-day battery life. Transmeta is also expected to announce customers for its Crusoe 5400 notebook chip soon.

Intel, meanwhile, introduced its Speedstep technology in January, which allows its mobile processor to drop to a slower speed when a notebook is unplugged from a main outlet. The 750MHz mobile Pentium III just launched, for example, drops to 600MHz when the notebook is running on a battery.

Frank Spindler, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobile products group, said that the low-power technology introduced with the 600MHz mobile Pentium III stacks up well against Transmeta's power-saving technology, called LongRun.

"The numbers are in line with [Transmeta's] stated claims," Spindler said. Not surprisingly, Transmeta did not agree. The company contested the way Intel measures the power consumption of its processor. "Intel measures one watt with the processor idle [sleeping] 80 per cent of the time. Transmeta's Crusoe chip runs all sorts of Windows and multimedia applications at one watt or less," Transmeta said.

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