New Components Mobilize for CES and Macworld Expo

Mobile technology is getting off to a fast start in 2004 with announcements in time for this week's big U.S. trade shows.

Mobile technologys new year started off with a bang: Based on technologies on display at this weeks Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and Macworld Expo San Francisco, Intel, AMD, Via, Hitachi and Toshiba have collectively ensured that 2004 will bear smaller, faster, less-expensive laptop and handheld computers.

Lets start with Apple Computers main course from Macworld Expo: the $249 mini-iPod, which packs a 4GB Hitachi Microdrive. To hit that price point, the cost of that drive must have dropped more then 50 percent; that adjustment should open it up to other devices, such as hand held computers, digital video and still cameras, and portable multimedia players. This is a dramatic price drop, and Toshiba, which announced a competing product was coming this week has promised to match this price when their product ships. This is on top of the Cornice announcement that it would increase the capacity of its drives to 2GB. (Cornice has owned the low end of the 1.0" drive market since they released their offering last year.)

In time for CES, Transmeta announced a smaller, faster Crusoe processor. The Crusoe is increasingly being positioned as an embedded processor for low-power devices; this shift may herald more-capable handheld computers as Crusoe reaches into the high end of the space currently occupied by ARM. Because this processor, like the rest of Transmetas line, can emulate x86 and was also designed with Linux in mind, expect to see some creative mobile solutions based on it later this year.

Meanwhile, AMD began shipping its low-power Athlon 64. This chip is still aimed at power users but now provides a more blended solution. The initial Athlon 64 based laptops were desktop chip offerings and battery life was dismal; this release provides a better balance for those who want to use their high-powered laptops on the road.

Intel started shipping the Celeron M, a lower-cost version of the mobile Pentium M processor. It will soon appear in laptops that start at $1,000 and help to validate systems priced at less than $1,500. However, typically Celeron products are aimed at SMB and consumer segments, so penetration into enterprise lines may be limited.

Finally, Via (whose wares will appear in a plethora of CES products), announced that IBM will manufacture its new processor, code-named "Esther." IBM Microelectronics has always had a strong reputation for quality but a bad reputation for partnering deals like this; however this situation has improved recently, as Big Blue has forged successful relationships with Nvidia and AMD. Good cooperation will be key to Esthers success: It is designed to work with both the Intel Banias and Vias own chipsets, so laptop makers will find it easier to move between the two in search of bargains. This is all before CES has actually started and makes one thing eminently clear, mobile computing products will be getting smaller, lighter, and less expensive this year and that is good news for all buyers of this technology.

Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.