Taking an already-terrific mobile processor and making it better, Intel has created a real winner with the revamped Pentium M.
Code-named Dothan, the new chip features clock speeds hitting 2.0 GHz, an L2 cache doubled to 2MB, and 90-nm architecture that makes it all possible in the same footprint as the previous core (which was code-named Banias). And while system makers still need to commit to an Intel chipset and wireless solution to use the Centrino branding, there is an 802.11b/g option—the Pro Wireless 2200, released a few months ago—making Centrino a more attractive option than the 802.11b-only choice offered when it first debuted.
The new Pentium M chips are available in clock speeds of 1.7, 1.8, and 2.0 GHz, but they wont be named as such. Rather, Intel is ushering in its new CPU naming convention, calling these 7-series chips the 735, 745, and 755. All still have a 400-MHz front-side bus, and current Intel chipsets only support a maximum 333-MHz DDR SDRAM. However, a new enhanced data pre-fetcher is supposed to take better advantage of the now-larger L2 cache to make operations within the processor faster. Intels next chipset, codenamed Alviso, will be available in the second half of 2004. It will support new DDR 2 memory, PCI Express and .ExpressCard.
To see how Intel delivered on its promise of new levels of power without painful power draw—thermals are down from 24.5 to 21 watts—we tested seven of the first Dothan-based machines. Our test results show that if youre looking for a battery-friendly powerhouse, the new Pentium M is likely your best bet. In general, performance from these machines bested previous mobile processor-based machines weve tested. To get better performance, youll need to move to a notebook based on a desktop CPU—with the larger chassis and lower battery life that comes along with it.
In terms of components, the units in this roundup vary in the choice of processor speed, hard drive speed and size, graphics chipset, and wireless solution. They also represent different classes of portables, ranging from 4-pound thin-and-light road-warrior machines to 7-pound mainstream models. So think of this more as a survey of whats out there, rather than a pure head-to-head shootout. Still, the reviews that follow will help you determine which balance of size, price, and performance is right for you.