Intel Centrino, AMD Athlon XP-M Spark Lightweight Laptop Blitz

According to Intel's Centrino team, it's a new day for portable computing -- one in which long battery life and seamless wireless networking are just as important as the new Pentium M processor's faster-than-mobile-Pentium-4 power. Meanwhile, AMD has impishly picked the same day to debut a dozen mobile Athlon XP-M chips. Here's your first look at the new technologies and the notebooks that use them.


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Everybody Get Unplugged

This article also appears on Jupitermedia's CPU Planet site.

Desktops? Those old things?

If you've seen the advertising spreads in this morning's papers, you know Intel Corp. today started spending a reported $300 million-plus to launch its new Centrino mobile technology -- a combined processor, chipset, and 802.11b wireless networking solution that the CPU king says empowers "a new generation of mobile PCs that will bring business users and consumers greater freedom to connect in new places and new ways."

Intel boasts that top laptop manufacturers worldwide -- four times as many as embraced the mobile Pentium 4 CPU at its rollout -- are offering lightweight, long-battery-life notebooks sporting the magenta Centrino logo as of today. And it's subsidizing the construction of WiFi hotspots at outlets ranging from Borders bookstores to McDonald's restaurants to spread the gospel of wireless Internet and e-mail access.

Actually, the Centrino combo and its centerpiece, the new Pentium M processor -- which delivers faster performance and longer battery life at lower clock speeds than the mobile Pentium 4 -- would be more than news enough for today. But rival AMD, in a totally noncoincidental move, chose the same date to introduce a dozen new mobile versions of its Athlon XP processor, including the company's first CPUs in the microPGA packaging format for thin and light notebooks. Let's take a first look at the suddenly all-new notebook arena.

Just Add M

At first glance, it's tempting to dismiss AMD's announcement as a me-too marketing move -- we couldn't help noticing a few weeks ago, just about the time Intel confirmed that the mobile CPU known by the codename "Banias" would be officially called Pentium M, that AMD's Web site stopped referring to the mobile Athlon XP and started referring to the Athlon XP-M.

But there's real technology behind today's 12 new 0.13-micron-process CPUs. Five are low-voltage mobile Athlon XP-M processors -- performance ratings 1400+, 1500+, 1600+, 1700+, and 1800+ -- with small-form-factor microPGA packaging for slimline notebook designs. They're based on AMD's "Thoroughbred" (128K Level 1 and 256K of Level 2 cache) core.

The other new mobile Athlon XP-M processors use AMD's faithful Socket A packaging. They include 2000+, 2200+, 2400+, and 2600+ chips intended for full-sized, desktop-replacement portables; and 2200+, 2400+, and 2500+ CPUs aimed at mid-sized, mainstream notebooks. All, like the low-voltage XP-Ms, use a 266MHz front-side bus.

The last two (mainstream 2400+ and 2500+) skip the "Thoroughbred" for the newer "Barton" core, with 128K of Level 1 and 512K of Level 2 on-chip cache -- which AMD promises will be available for all mobile market segments by mid-2003. For today, the company says, the Athlon XP-M 2500+ outperforms Intel's 2.4GHz mobile Pentium 4 by up to 10 percent on assorted benchmarks.

AMD adds that the mobile "Barton" will appear in laptops from Fujitsu Siemens (Europe) this month, from Epson Direct (Japan) in April, and from HP in the U.S. in the first half of this year. The low-voltage Athlon XP-M 1700+ (1.47GHz) processor goes on sale today in the U.S. in Fujitsu PC Corp.'s 4.4-pound LifeBook S2000, which squeezes a 13.3-inch XGA display, 256MB of DDR memory, a 40GB hard disk, and modular DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive into a 9.3 by 11.5 by 1.4-inch package. It's $1,349 (or $1,439 with a 30GB hard disk and integrated 802.11b wireless networking).

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