SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel Corp. rolled out a new flavor of its mobile Pentium III line, a 700-MHz part aimed at mini notebooks, while divulging a glimpse of its mobile processor roadmap at the Intel Developers Forum this week (Feb. 26-Mar. 1) in San Jose, Calif.
In his keynote speech, Paul Otellini, an executive vice president at Intel, detailed the evolution of the mobile processing platform, noting that momentum has begun to shift toward the thin-and-light and ultrathin segments and away from full-sized notebooks. That trend toward smaller form factors has been heating up of late, as Transmeta Corp. revs a next-generation, 256-bit wide version of its Crusoe processor and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) gets aggressive in the thin-and-light space with new packaging and process technologies being explored.
But the breadth of Intel's offerings, as well as some of the mobile parts to be announced later this year, had Otellini shrugging off the increasingly competitive landscape. "We intend to lead the industry across all aspects of the mobile processor market segment, from low-power to high-performance and all combinations in between," Otellini said.
Targeting systems that weigh less than 3 pounds, the 0.18-micron, 700-MHz chip, like all mobile Pentium IIIs, includes Intel's SpeedStep technology, which is designed to extend battery life and cool down the system. When operating in battery-optimized mode, clock frequency and voltage scale down, resulting in a processor that runs at 500 MHz and 1.1 volts while consuming less than 1 watt of average power.
Otellini also said that Intel plans to break the GHz barrier in its mobile parts in the first half of this year and that shortly thereafter, it will introduce its first 0.13-micron mobile processors. A mobile Pentium 4 processor manufactured on 0.13-micron is also in the works, Otellini said.
The chip looks to be another direct hit against upstart Transmeta Corp., whose code-morphing, software-based, x86-compatible Crusoe microprocessor battles Intel head-to-head in the ultrathin space. Transmeta has warned against the way Intel characterizes its mobile Pentium III's thermal metrics, saying the performance and power-saving features of this latest Intel release aren't that significant.
"This is a 500-MHz part, when mobile," said a Transmeta spokesperson. "Transmeta is already shipping a 667-MHz mobile processor at very low power levels. Because Crusoe's software-based design uses far fewer logic transistors, Transmeta is able to keep thermal power lower and provide greater power efficiency than a hardware-based design." The spokesperson added that Transmeta intends to offer more performance per watt as well as further reductions in power consumption throughout the year.
According to market research firms DataQuest and International Data Corp., the worldwide market for mobile PCs which was dominated by the full-size notebook form factor in 1999 will show a greater reliance on the thin-and-light segment, which by 2004, will make up more than 60 percent of the market. Otellini echoed these numbers at his keynote and added that notebook migration over the next two years will sway heavily in the thin-and-light segment and beyond, to smaller form factors.
But the segment which squares Intel against Transmeta, the ultralight segment, will continue to remain a minority of the market, analysts note, positing that the current "war on watts" from Intel arose partly in reaction to the fledgling Transmeta. "Ultralight is still a small niche of the notebook market," said analyst Nathan Brookwood, president of Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.). "And Intel has pursued it only because Transmeta is giving it so many headaches."
And, not content with challenging Intel merely on the desktop, No. 2 chip maker AMD has also unveiled plans recently to grow more aggressively on the notebook processor front. The firm said it would use silicon-on-insulator technology, developed in conjunction with Motorola, and smaller packaging, to address the power and thermal needs of thin-and-light notebooks. Both AMD and Transmeta will be moving to 0.13-micron process technologies this year, at around the same time as Intel's migration.
The latest mobile Pentium III features a 100-MHz system bus, 256k full-speed advanced transfer cache, advanced system buffering and streaming SIMD extensions for higher-performance systems. Packaged in a ball-grid array, the 700-MHz mobile Pentium III is priced at $316 in 1,000-unit quantities.