Chip giant Intel tried to jumpstart the sagging PC industry Monday with the launch of its Mobile Pentium III Processor-M, a revved up chip running at up to 1.13GHz that the company said will deliver better notebook performance - while using less power - than any of its current products.
Calling the awkwardly titled chip "a generational leap forward", Frank Spindler, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobile platform group, told analysts here Monday that the new chip is the company's first produced using its new 0.13-micron process technology. The new manufacturing process lets the company shrink the size of the chip while speeding up performance and adding extra features.
Intel will offer the chip at two new tops speeds: the 1.13-GHz part and a slightly slower, 1.06-GHz version. It will also backfill its lineup with chips at 1GHz, 933MHz, and 866MHz.
Thanks in part to the new production process, the PIII-M will include 512MB of performance-improving secondary cache, which is twice the Level 2 cache of existing mobile Pentium III chips. The larger L2 cache should mean better performance across the board, meaning a new 866-MHz PIII-M should outperform an existing 866-PIII, Spindler says.
Another side benefit of the new process is that the chip uses less power to do the same job. Intel claims the new chips run 20 percent faster than existing chips based on the older 0.18-micron process, while using 40 percent less power.
To further enhance the chip's power-saving capabilities Intel improved its SpeedStep technology for the PIII-M, Spindler said. The enhanced technology lets users do more than choose between maximum-performance or battery-optimized modes by including an "automatic" setting. The new setting revs the chip between low and high frequency speeds based on the needs of the application running at the time.
Notebook vendors showed up en masse to support the new chip, with representatives from Acer, Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, IBM, Sony, and Toshiba on hand to show off products using the chip.
While all of the vendors demonstrated PIII-M-based products, few have plans to ship notebooks with the chip right away. Only Compaq and Dell were selling notebooks Monday. Buyers can configure and order a Compaq Presario 1700 notebook at the company's Web site now and it should arrive within a week, said Lorena Kubera, director of portable product marketing. A Dell executive said Latitude and Inspiron notebooks with the new PIII-M are available for purchase now, but will ship "within 25 days."
Representatives from HP, Gateway, Acer, and Toshiba were less clear on their official launch dates, with most saying their first PIII-M notebooks won't start shipping until mid to late August.
A slight lag between Intel's launch and the introduction of new products isn't unusual in the mobile market, said Kevin Krewell, senior analyst with MicroDesign Resources. While most desktop vendors can launch a new product at the same time as Intel announces a new desktop processor, notebooks can be a bit trickier.
"Notebooks take a lot longer to design," he said. That's especially true when you're talking about a new type of processor. And in addition to the new chip, Intel is launching a new chip set to match, so that takes time to integrate, he said.
The Intel 830 MP chip set incorporates a handful of improvements to spur better performance, said Intel's Spindler. Among those improvements is a 133MHz processor system bus (up from 100 MHz); support for the faster PC-133 RAM (up from PC-100); and the ability to support up to 1GB of memory.
Today the company is offering the 830M with support for external graphics; in the near future it will offer two separate products with different levels of integrated graphics, he says.