Intel Banks on Banias Mobile Chips

With Intel Corp.'s forthcoming Banias processor, the chip giant might be taking a step back to go forward.

With Intel Corp.s forthcoming Banias processor, the chip giant might be taking a step back to go forward.

No one outside of Intel knows for sure how fast Banias is, but its widely believed to be running at sub-2GHz speeds (likely in the 1.4GHz-to-1.6GHz area). Its also rumored that Banias, expected in the first half of next year, is based on the Pentium III core. The PIII was introduced in early 1999, making Banias an odd fellow, indeed.

Intel may be on to something, however. Engineers have been working on optimizing the Banias chip set for the mobile environment, making it more powerful than previous mobile processors while increasing battery life. True to Intels mission, Banias will include a highly integrated supporting chip set and feature wireless networking.

Mobile processors specifically designed for notebooks are a fairly new technology. (See Peter Coffees story for more on the evolution from "trickle-down" chips.) In the past, most hardware vendors simply designed notebooks around desktop processors, adding heat shields and ventilation to ensure that the chips didnt burn through the casing.

In fact, some newer notebooks still use desktop processors, a design choice that led to a class action suit against Toshiba America Inc. earlier this year. The suit claimed, among other things, that the desktop processor in the Satellite 5005 produced so much heat that it forced the chip set to scale back performance (and thus run cooler). Toshibas other notebooks use mobile processors, and the Satellite 5005 has been replaced by the Satellite 1905 and 1955, both of which are based on the Pentium 4-Processor-M.

The current line of mobile processors from Intel consists of the Pentium III Processor-M and the Pentium 4 Processor-M. These processors are designed for low- and ultra-low- voltage configurations using Intels Enhanced SpeedStep technology, which throttles performance depending on usage and power management profiles.

(For an idea of how much SpeedStep scales back performance, see the chart "Maximum performance vs. battery optimized mode" at Intels Web site, www.intel.com/support/processors/mobile/pentiumiii/ss.htm.)

Banias is in many ways simply an enhancement of the PIII-M—including smaller packaging and highly improved heat dissipation (through "thermals"). However, Banias may also include an extraordinarily large multibank cache, and Intel is improving the branch prediction capabilities in the micro-architecture of the chip.