Intel offers low-power chips for thin, light laptops

The new chips are in the Core, Pentium and Celeron families

With the aim of bringing down the price of laptops, Intel on Monday launched a family of low-power processors for thin and light machines that could be more affordable than conventional laptops.

The new family of microprocessors will go into laptops around 1-inch (0.08 feet) thick with screen sizes up to 13 inches, and provide longer battery life than mainstream laptops, which tend to have screen sizes more than 13 inches. The laptops will weigh between 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) to 5 pounds and carry Intel's new dual-core processors from the Core, Pentium and Celeron families.

These laptops fall under a category called ultrathin laptops, which are as portable as netbooks but deliver the performance to run most multimedia applications. The laptops have generally been priced between US$400 and $800, and fill a power and performance gap between netbooks and the more expensive conventional laptops. Conventional laptops are often priced at more than $500 and are heavier, but deliver better performance.

"You will see much more affordable systems," said Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of the PC client group at Intel in a Monday webcast to announce the chips. Intel declined to provide estimated pricing for laptops with these chips, leaving it to the PC makers, who should make systems available in the next two weeks.

Companies like MSI, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and Gateway are expected to announce laptops with the new chips. Eden could not comment on other PC makers launching systems. The chips are smaller than its predecessors, which helps PC makers make smaller and sleeker laptops, Eden said.

Ultrathin laptops however may not match the performance of mainstream laptops, which carry standard-voltage processors. The CPU and integrated graphics processor clock speeds in these machines operate at a lower frequency, which affects performance, but enable the chip to deliver improved battery life. For example, these low-power chips are not designed for laptops that allow intense gaming, Eden said.

The ultrathin laptop category emerged when Advanced Micro Devices introduced Athlon Neo processors in January last year. Intel followed suit, releasing new chips for ultrathin laptops a few months later. However, adoption rates for ultrathin laptops were slow.

But Intel has raised the performance bar with the new chips, which the company hopes to ramp up ultrathin laptop adoption. Laptops could see a twofold improvements in graphics capabilities and up to 32 percent faster system performance with the new chips, compared to their predecessors. The laptop chips are made using the company's 32-nanometer advanced manufacturing process, which brings power savings and performance benefits. The older chips were made using older technology.

The chips are also smaller than their predecessors, and also integrate graphics processors inside the chip, which help deliver improved graphics performance. Turbo Boost technology will crank up clock speeds whenever additional performance is needed.

Intel's Eden had a positive outlook on the growth of the ultrathin laptop market. Research firm iSuppli also said earlier this month that shipments of ultrathin laptops will pick up this year. iSuppli estimated ultrathin shipments to total 14.5 million this year, a 93 percent increase from the 7.5 million ultrathin laptops that shipped last year. iSuppli said that total laptop shipments to be 209.5 million units this year, a 25.5 percent year-over-year growth.

The new laptop chips include the Core i3-330UM, i5-430UM, i5-540UM and Core i7-660UM which run at speeds between 1.2 and 1.33GHz and include between 3MB and 4MB of cache. The Core i7-660UM is priced at US$305, the Core i5-540UM is priced at $241. Intel did not provide pricing for the other Core chips. The Pentium U5400 runs at 1.2GHz and includes 3MB of cache, and pricing was not available. The slowest processor is the Celeron U3400, which runs at 1.06GHz, includes 2MB of cache and is priced at $134.

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