The Mobile Market

By Richard Fisco  |  Posted 2003-02-01

The Mobile Market

In the steadily growing U.S. mobile PC market, about 80 percent of all U.S.notebooks ranging from 2 to 10 pounds have been outfitted by Intel, according to IDC.

To answer the ever-changing demand of notebooks of varying shapes and sizes, Intel offers five purely mobile processors to fit different configurations and form factors, as well as a desktop chip used in the larger desktop replacement notebooks.

The Mobile Intel Pentium III Processor-M comes in three voltages: the 1.15V-to-1.40V PIII-M, the 1.05V-to-1.15V PIII-M Low Voltage (LV), and the 0.95V-to-1.10V PIII-M Ultra Low Voltage (ULV). As the names imply, the chips are identical except for their operating voltages.

Lower voltage means lower power consumption, allowing for better heat dissipation and longer battery life. These mobile chips, unlike the desktop chips, use SpeedStep technology, which helps them run at lower clock speeds and operating voltages to conserve battery life. If youre en route cross-country, you will want the extra battery life and probably wont mind giving up some performance.

Intel also offers the Mobile Celeron, found in sub-$1,000 value notebooks. You can obtain an older Mobile Celeron (code-named Coppermine) based on a PIII core with 128K of L2 cache in LV and ULV versions, or you can get the newer version (code-named Tualatin) based on the PIII core with 256K of L2 cache.

If top performance is what youre after, then the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 Processor-M, used in desktop replacement, value, and thin-and-light notebooks, fits the bill. Its built on the same Northwood core as the P4 desktop chips, and Intel adds Enhanced SpeedStep and Deeper Sleep Alert State power-saving technologies for the mobile market.

All P4-M processors run at 1.3V in performance mode and 1.2V in battery-optimized mode with SpeedStep enabled. The higher power requirement can reduce battery life or necessitate larger batteries. Many notebook vendors put desktop P4 chips in their desktop replacement notebooks, because weight and battery life are not as important in this category.

Though AMD has definite plans for its desktop processors, its direction is unclear in the mobile market, where it holds about 15 percent share in the U.S., according to IDC. AMDs top mobile chip was originally named the Mobile Athlon4 but was quickly renamed the Mobile Athlon XP to show the CPUs relation to the desktop Athlon XP. The companys value mobile chip is currently the Mobile Duron, which, like the desktop Duron, is going away. Both chips include PowerNow! technology, which is similar to SpeedStep, to help increase battery life.

The Transmeta Crusoe CPU was born and raised for one purpose: to save power. The chip has led the way in ultrasmall PC devices, which are more popular on Asian shores. We can safely say that the Crusoe pushed Intel to address the needs of the low-power ultralight-notebook market. The Crusoe, however, is different from other CPUs: Instead of a core dedicated to running x86 code, it uses a VLIW (very long instruction word) core and proprietary Code Morphing instruction-set translation software. These technologies allow for a much smaller number of transistors on the chip, saving power.

Unfortunately, this power-miser CPU is significantly outperformed by the mobile offerings of Intel and AMD. But if youre looking for a chip thats fast enough for typical business applications and DVD playback, and you value light weight above all, then some Crusoe-based notebooks will suit your needs.

Whats Next

: Mobile CPUs">

Whats Next: Mobile CPUs

Intel is about to debut its next-generation processor, Banias. This chip aims for power efficiency and is not based on the P4s NetBurst architecture (Intels marketing term for the combination of hyperpipelined technology, advanced transfer cache, SSE2, and other fundamental P4 architecture elements). Banias wont achieve the higher clock speeds of the P4, because it lacks a 20-stage pipeline. Intel says, however, that Banias will outperform the P4. The result: a CPU with a lower clock speed but higher performance than a P4. Sound familiar? Intel has stated that it will not use a part-numbering scheme like AMDs and will market Banias in terms of its performance without hiding its clock speed.

Up next for AMD is a plan to move its Barton core into a mobile package at the same time the desktop Barton CPU is released. The mobile Barton will probably be identical to the desktop chip, but with the addition of PowerNow! technology for increased battery life.

Interestingly, AMD is planning to make a version of its Athlon 64 (Clawhammer) for the mobile market a few months after releasing the desktop Athlon 64. This will be the first-ever 64-bit CPU in a notebook. The Athlon 64 32-bit compatibility and 64-bit extensions make it an excellent choice for the growing market of pricier mobile workstations, which is currently dominated by Intel processors.

As for Transmeta, financial difficulties led to the cancellation of its next-generation Crusoe TM6000 processor, whose release was originally scheduled for the first half of 2002. Now Transmeta has a new architecture, the Crusoe TM8000, scheduled for the second quarter of 2003. Architectural changes will let the TM8000 operate at a higher frequency than the current Crusoe TM5800. The chip will also include a newer version of Transmetas Code Morphing software, as well as a 256-bit VLIW engine (twice the width of the TM5800s 128-bit engine). This will double the instructions per clock cycle from four to eight, which should mean a significant performance boost.

Rocket Fuel