Intel Notebook Chips Leapfrog in 06

The chipmaker will deliver two all new notebook chips in 2006, sparking a hardware shift later in the year.

SAN FRANCISCO—Intel will unveil its first dual-core notebook platform with great fanfare in early 2006. But the processor that powers it, initially, may not stick around for long.

Intel Corp. said this week at its fall Intel Developer Forum, here, that it will convert nearly wholesale to dual-core processors based on a new chip architecture, whose underlying circuitry will recast its Pentium PC and Xeon server chips to focus on energy efficiency, during 2006.

Because of the shift, Intel will bring out a large crop of new dual-core processors for desktops, notebooks and servers in 2006. The new architecture, dual core chips, which offer improvements in efficiency and electricity consumption, are expected to quickly take over, the market when they arrive in the second half. But the transition will be particularly rapid for some notebooks, which will gain two all new dual-core chips in the 12 month period.

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"What well end up seeing is there will be a pretty fast refresh happening" in dual-core notebooks, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research Inc., who attended the developer forum this week.

Intel plans to roll out Yonah, its first mobile dual-core chip along with a new platform, code-named Napa, in January 2006, creating the first dual-core Intel processor notebooks. Intel says that 220 or more Napa designs—120 of which will be out within a month of the Napa launch—are in the works right now. The first of those new systems, which will be based on Yonah, are likely to be largely aimed at consumers. Consumers tend to adopt new technology more quickly than businesses.

But the 32-bit Yonah will be superseded in fairly short order by Merom, a 64-bit capable, dual-core notebook chip based the new Intel processor architecture. Although the two chips could coexist in the market, starting in late 2006—Intel is likely to roll out Merom out in time for the 2006 holiday season—Merom is instead likely to rapidly displace Yonah, McCarron said.

The close proximity of the two chips "means that Yonah is going to be one of the shorter-lived notebook processor families from Intel," he said. "Once Merom comes out, most people will go with it."

Merom is expected to consume about the same power as Yonah—the Yonah chip is expected to consume a maximum of about 30 watts of electricity—but still outperform it.

Thus despite populating the first Napa-based, dual-core consumer and business models, Yonah is likely to be displaced. The shift will begin with consumer notebooks, starting in the fall of 2006 and will be followed later by corporate machines, McCarron said.

Intel has indicated that Merom will come in at least two flavors, a standard part which consumes a maximum of about 30 watts of power and a low-power part which runs up to about 5 watts. The company has not indicated whether or not the chip will also be available in single-core configurations, which would become future Celeron chips.

Yonah, in a twist, might live on for a relatively long time as a single core chip. Intel will offer a single-core version of the Yonah that will become a Celeron processor for low-price notebooks. The chip maker also plans to deliver Sossaman, a chip for blade servers thats based on Yonah in 2006.

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If Intel were to discard or delay a single core Merom, it would likely continue delivering the single-core Yonah chip to satisfy the Celeron space, even after its dual-core Yonah chip largely disappears from the performance-oriented portion of the market.

"What I would fully expect would be that the Celerons would be based on the previous generation cores as long as was possible," McCarron said. "Ironically… in the end it all makes sense. Its being built with an older [manufacturing] process. Theres not a big motivation to use the latest tech for that class of part."

While the Napa-Merom combination will take consumer systems by storm, at least some businesses might hold off on making the transition to Merom until 2007, when a platform successor to Napa will hit the market.

Napa, for its part, will allow notebooks to be designed as much as 20 percent smaller than current systems, Intel has said. Part of the reason is that Napas chipset, the Mobile Intel 945 Express, consumes half a watt less power on average than its predecessor the mobile 915 Express. Thats considered a fairly sizeable reduction in power consumption by chipset standards. The chipset will offer a higher performance built-in improved graphics and features such as hardware accelerated multi-streaming high definition MPEG-2 playback. Napa will also gain a new wireless module, the Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG module will support the latest industry security standards and come in a mini-card form factor, which also helps aid in creating smaller machines, Intel said.

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