New Intel Low-Power Chips Aimed at Ultrathin Laptops

Intel is looking to boost the market for ultrathin consumer laptops with a new line of ultra low-voltage processors that touch on the Core, Pentium and Celeron product lines. Intel officials say 40 laptops based on the new chips are in the works, and said some from Acer, Asus, Gateway and MSI are ready to hit the market next month.

Intel is filling out its notebook offerings with ultra low-voltage processors that company officials hope will spark greater demand for ultrathin laptops.

Speaking on a video conference May 24, Mooley Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, said ultrathin laptops have been growing in popularity, but not at the rate that Intel offiicals had expected. Eden said it might be because they weren't seeing systems with the features they wanted.

That could change, now that OEMs have these new, ultra low-voltage Intel chips, he said. OEMs will be able to offer ultrathin laptops that have longer batter life and better performance, all at more competitive prices than current systems.

"We think it will ramp up faster if the right products get out there," Eden said. "The ramp was slower than we expected initially. ... We still believe the [ultrathin market] will grow."

Intel is introducing ultra low-voltage chips throughout its mobile processor line, from the low-end Celeron and Pentium families up through the new Core i3, i5 and i7 chips.

The 32-nanometer chips offer a 32 percent smaller package size than standard processors, performance increases of as much as 35 to 40 percent over current chips used in ultrathin notebooks, more tightly integrated graphics capabilities and consumer 15 percent less power than traditional chips.

The higher-end chips also offer the same features as their more full-size brethren, including HyperThreading and Turbo Boost, a technology that enables individual cores to power up or down depending on the demands of the task at hand.

"We're delivering all this goodness on the -Nehalem' family," Eden said. "Ultrathin [systems] will be available at all price points ... from Celeron to i7."

The new chips are the Core i3-330UM, i5-430UM, i5-540UM, Core i7-660UM, Pentium U5400 and Celeron U3400. They'll compete with the likes of Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon Neo chips, which were launched in January 2009.

The new chips will enable OEMs to deliver systems that meet the demands of consumers, who are looking for more battery life, better performance, more storage, larger screens, less weight and a more attractive appearance from their laptops, he said.

Eden said he expects the chips will be used in systems with 7- to 12-inch screens, with some going into laptops with 15-inch screens. The new chips will enable designs of systems thinner than an inch.

The systems will weigh between 2 and 5 pounds.

He said there are about 40 laptop designs being developed by OEMs to take advantage of the new chips, with several systems makers-including Acer, Asus, Gateway and MIS-already showing off products. They will start becoming available to consumers in June.

Eden said Intel engineers tried to strike the right balance between such issues as performance, power consumption and size to give OEMs the tools to build ultrathin laptops consumers will want. Because they run at a lower frequency, they won't have the same performance as mainstream systems, he said. But they will offer better battery life.

"It's not about the technology, it's about what you do with the technology," he said.

Market research firm iSuppli is expecting a strong market this year for ultrathin notebooks. The company is predicting that about 14.5 million systems will ship this year, a 93 percent jump over 2009.

The new chips won't have any impact on the market for Intel's upcoming dual-core Atom processors in the netbook space, Eden said. The new Atoms will represent a performance increase for the platform, but there still will be a considerable gap between what Atom can offer and what the new ultra low-voltage chips will deliver.