Dual-core processor notebooks are mustering to take over the world of portable PCs.
The transition—a move that began in desktops and servers earlier this year—will get under way in January when dual-core processors forthcoming from Intel Corp. begin arriving in systems.
Computer makers, who are at the moment designing and testing notebooks with dual-core Intel chips, say the combination of Intels Yonah—the chip makers first dual-core mobile Pentium processor—and its new notebook platform, dubbed Napa, will offer a significant boost in performance, compared to existing single-core Pentium M chips, but will do so without exacting penalties in battery life or significantly altering their notebook hardware.
Thus the Yonah-Napa bundle, scheduled to arrive in January, appears to offer greater performance, without forcing large shifts in notebooks designs, a rarity for a major processor change.
The bundle isnt expected to command a large price increase, either. Combined, the factors could ensure a quick transition to dual cores in notebooks.
“Its going to enable us to put a great deal more performance into what are already very thin and light systems,” said Rob Herman, program director for Lenovo Group LTDs ThinkPad brand.
“From a ThinkPad perspective, we take great pride in our ability to take power and performance that Intel delivers and integrate it into very thin and light packages, so our customers dont have to sacrifice anything to get that performance. We look at this as a double bonus, in terms of being able to deliver dual-core in the same type of package” thats available now.
Those performance gains will vary, depending on the type of software a dual-core notebook is running.
Few notebook-specific applications have been optimized for multiprocessing. However, a notebook owner who multitasks, running several applications at one time, will see snappier performance from a dual-core machine, which can divide up those tasks more easily, Herman said.
Whereas past notebook processor transitions, such as the move from mobile Pentium III to Pentium 4 M chips, promoted major redesigns, adding Yonah to notebooks isnt likely to do so.
The chip consumes nearly the same amount of power—a maximum of about 30 watts—as todays speediest single-core Pentium Ms, whose maximum consumption is about 27 watts, eliminating the need for notebooks to bulk up.
Yonah, meanwhile, is expected to come in several forms, including a standard and low voltage dual core versions and single-core, ultra-low voltage forms for mini-notebooks and inexpensive machines, where a cut-down version will be marketed as a Celeron derivative.
Speeds are expected 2GHz, similar speed to todays Pentium M. Intel has said Yonah will offer a faster 667MHz bus, or data pathway.
“The net of it is its basically business as usual” for PC makers, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research Inc. in Cave Creek, Ariz.
“Its really fitting [the new chips] into the existing work theyve already done. Its not trivial. But youre still talking about it begin a modest change in the hardware, rather than adding a completely new [processor] architecture and chipset.”
Intel has said more than 200 notebooks are already being designed around Napa.
Lenovo, whose products mainly aim for businesses in the United States, is expected to offer Yonah chips in a range of ThinkPad models.
However, the PC maker is anticipating gains for its mobile workstations—ThinkPad T Series models equipped with beefier internals such as high-end graphics cards for tackling engineering or other heavy-duty software—and ultraportable models, machines such as the ThinkPad X Series, which weighs about 3 pounds, Herman said.
For its part, Gateway Inc., which serves both businesses and consumers, sees yet another opportunity in dual-core notebooks.
They could present yet another way to encourage customers to replace their desktops.
Although desktops are an important piece of the PC market and a major source of revenue for Gateway and others, notebooks have been growing more quickly than desktops and also continue to command higher prices, making them more attractive for manufacturers to offer.
Gateways early analysis shows that Intels “Dual-core notebook parts should significantly outperform their desktop counterparts that are on the market right now,” said Chad McDonald, director of notebook product marketing at the Irvine, Calif., company. “Theyre looking very strong, early.”
The increased performance could help pull a new segment of customers from desktops to notebooks, McDonald said.
“What youre going to see next year is that the price delta in the value [notebook] space is still going to be narrow—so people will switch because of the low prices of notebooks,” McDonald said.
But, “The dual-core piece adds performance in the midrange and high-end, which will cannibalize desktops in another way. Youll have a performance benefit, which is another opportunity for us to go out and steal some market share.”
Apple Computer Inc., meanwhile, may bring even more new customers into the mix. The Palo Alto, Calif., computer maker could choose Yonah to make its first foray into the Intel hardware space, analysts believe. Apple, which announced plans to swap from PowerPC to Intel processors in 2006, could use Yonah to update its PowerBook and iBook portables, analysts say.
Despite appearing to have a lead in bringing dual-core notebook chips to market, Intel will have competition in the space.
Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Intels chief rival, will counter with a dual-core Turion-brand notebook chip, which it says will ship during the first half of 2006.
Sources familiar with AMDs plans said the chip is expected to arrive later in the first half, possibly in May.
The dual-core Turion chip will be based on the same circuitry employed in AMDs dual-core Opteron server and Athlon 64 X2 desktop chips, meaning its capable of running 64-bit applications, where Yonah is limited to 32-bits.
The new Turion will also offer new features such as Pacifica, AMDs virtualization technology, said Bahr Mahony, division marketing manager for AMDs mobile division.
However, he declined to offer any more detailed information about its design or launch dates.
Intel Flexes Its Manufacturing
Intel, in the meantime, appears to be using its manufacturing muscle to speed the transition to dual-cores in notebooks.
The company, which has said it will begin deliveries of Yonah chips this year, is also expected to offer the dual-core notebook chip, which will be stamped out using a new 65-nanometer manufacturing process, for roughly the same prices as its current single-core Pentium M chip, a measure that will allow PC makers to place Yonah machines into existing notebook price bands.
But the machines are still expected to populate the mid-range and high-end of the market at first, as even if their processors are the nearly the same price, other components may cost more.
Yonah systems arent likely to immediately fall into the $800 to $1,000 price range, where the bulk of notebooks sold at retail are priced, for example.
But they should arrive at more consumer-friendly prices in time for the 2006 holiday season, industry watchers said.
Still, at the outset, business buyers or consumers who are willing to spend more, likely somewhere between $50 and $100 extra on top of the $1,200 to $1,500 tag for a mid-range to high-end notebook, should be able to upgrade from a single-core Pentium M to a Yonah chip with all other components begin equal, one source familiar with Intels plans said.
Ultimately, the main factor in how quickly the chips proliferate is Intels manufacturing engine and how quickly it can churn out the new chips, McCarron said.
“Its making a fairly aggressive transition” to dual-core notebook chips, he said. “But itll still probably be the second half of 2006 before you see it get pervasive.”
An Intel spokesperson declined to comment on pricing or clock speeds of its forthcoming Yonah chip.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.