Intel's New Chips De-Emphasize Clock Speed

Intel on Monday introduced a wave of notebook-PC chips that for the first time de-emphasize raw speed as the prime measure of its products' abilities.

May 11, 2004

2 Min Read
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Intel on Monday introduced a wave of notebook-PC chips that for the first time de-emphasize raw speed as the prime measure of its products' abilities.

The world's largest chipmaker introduced Pentium M processors for laptops that it will market with a new numbering scheme--735, 745, and 755 model numbers--instead of according to the chips' frequency ratings or clock speeds. The shift is meant to convey to consumers and business PC buyers that Intel's newest products can deliver benefits such as additional memory or security features that aren't reflected in clock speed, Intel VP Anand Chandrasekher said at a news conference in San Francisco. "The intent behind the new numbers is not to convey performance," he said. "It's a goodness measure based on features."

The new Pentiums for notebooks will be marketed under Intel's Centrino brand, which also includes associated chipsets and wireless communications technology. The chip will clock in from 1.7 GHz to 2 GHz--about the same as last year's mobile line. But the new chips, previously code-named Dothan, will feature 140 million transistors, twice as many as the Pentium M, released a year ago. Intel has shown it's increasingly willing to use that additional computing capacity for features such as larger cache sizes (2 Mbytes now, up from 1 Mbyte a year ago), fast bus speeds, longer battery life, and the introduction of security features next year called "LaGrande Technology," in addition to frequency gains.

"You'll never be able to market all of that unless you have a full page on the shelf at Best Buy," says Steve Kleynhans, an analyst at Meta Group, a technology consulting firm. "Performance can't be the only thing you differentiate on your product at this point." Except for CPU-taxing programs such as games and video-editing software, most everyday applications these days don't benefit as much from clock-speed boosts as they once did, he says. "In the business market, buyers haven't spent as much time specifying the gigahertz on Pentium M as they have for desktop PCs. The gigahertz got buried in the subtext. Intel wants to take that trend up through the desktop."

The new Pentium M chips are Intel's first processors for notebook computers made with a new, ultrafine 90-nanometer manufacturing process, which the company says yields better performance and more-efficient operation. By the third quarter, half of Intel's mobile-computing chips will be made with this process, Chandrasekher said. As chipmaking process technology grows finer and the electronic features on semiconductors grow smaller, dissipating the heat generated from all that computing is an increasing challenge for semiconductor companies. While that's a challenging issue, Chandrasekher said it had nothing to do with Intel's decision to "shy away from megahertz" in marketing its new chips.

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