Intel races ahead with faster mobile Pentium III chips

Intel Corp. cranked up the speed of its fastest notebook PC processor to 850MHz on Monday, while vendors including Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. unwrapped new systems powered by the latest chips.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel released two mobile Pentium III processors running at 800MHz and 850MHz. The chips use Intel’s SpeedStep power management technology, which allows them to conserve battery life by running at a slower clock speed when the notebook is unplugged from a mains supply.

Intel also increased the speed of its fastest Celeron chip from 650MHz to 700MHz. Intel’s Celeron family is designed for lower-cost notebooks.

Intel has had trouble keeping up with demand for its fastest desktop processors, but vendors said they don’t expect the new mobile Pentium IIIs to be in short supply. Unlike in the desktop market, Intel is almost without competition at the high end of the mobile processor market, which means the company isn’t pressured to rush new chips out the door before it can deliver them in adequate volumes, analysts said.

“Intel really doesn’t have any competition on the high end, so there’s really no need for them to push the clock speed too much,” said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst with The Linley Group in Mountain View, Calif.

With the growth in notebook sales outpacing those in the desktop market, vendors were quick to jump on the new processors. For the most part, they favored the higher performance and more expensive Pentium III parts, with systems using the new Celeron chip likely to follow at a later date.

Toshiba will offer the new mobile Pentium IIIs in its Tecra 8100 line, a family of lightweight notebooks aimed primarily at business users.

An 850MHz system with Windows 2000, a 14.1-inch TFT (thin-film transistor) display, an 8-speed DVD-ROM drive and a 20G-byte hard drive is priced at US$4,699. A similar system with an 800MHz processor and a 10G-byte hard drive is priced at $3,699, Toshiba said. The systems are shipping to Toshiba’s channel partners Monday and can be ordered immediately.

Compaq said it plans to offer the new Pentium IIIs in its full-featured Armada E500 notebook, starting from under $4,000. Aimed at corporate users, the new E500 systems will also feature an improved, 15-inch SXGA-plus display. SXGA-plus offers improved screen resolution over the standard XGA format.

Compaq will also offer the 800MHz Pentium III in its Armada E500S, a notebook aimed at smaller businesses, said Matt Mazzantin, North American product marketing manager for Compaq’s portables team. The company will also launch an ultraportable M700 notebook with the 850MHz Pentium III.

The new Compaq notebooks will go on sale in about two weeks, Mazzantini said.

Dell will offer the new Pentium IIIs in new C600 and C800 Latitude notebooks. As well as boasting Intel’s fastest processor, the Dell machines feature a newly styled design and come with built-in support for the 802.11b wireless local area networking, officials said.

The standard C800 configuration starts at $3,299 including an 850MHz Pentium III, a choice of CD or DVD optical drive, 64M bytes of main memory, a 10G-byte hard drive and an ATI Mobility graphics card with 16M bytes of video SGRAM. Due to be available in 60 days, the C800 is also the first Latitude with a 15-inch SXGA screen, Dell officials said.

The Latitude C600, meanwhile, is available immediately. Pricing starts at $2,599 for a system with a 700MHz Pentium III, 64M bytes of main memory, a 6G-byte hard drive, a 24X CD-ROM drive, AGP graphics and 8M bytes of SGRAM. Pricing for models with the new Intel processors wasn’t available at press time.

Hewlett-Packard Co. will offer each of the new mobile Pentium IIIs in its OmniBook 6000 notebook, also aimed at business users. These systems will also feature the new SXGA-plus display, and are expected to be available for purchase Nov. 1, said Anthony McMahon, a marketing manager for HP’s OmniBook family. Pricing for those systems wasn’t immediately available.

IBM Corp. will offer the new processors in ThinkPad notebooks expected to go on sale next month, officials said.

The 800MHz and 850MHz Pentium III will be offered in both A Series and T Series ThinkPads. The T Series is the lighter weight of the two, and will also include the new SXGA-plus display screen. The A Series is designed as a more full-featured notebook and comes with a 15-inch UXGA TFT display.

IBM will also offer an A Series ThinkPad with the 700MHz Celeron processor. Both A Series and T Series machines are available with a choice of operating systems — Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Caldera Systems Inc.’s Open Linux eDesktop 2.4.

Pricing hasn’t been announced yet for any of the new ThinkPad systems.

In 1,000-unit quantities, the Pentium III 850MHz is priced at $722, the Pentium III 800MHz is priced at $508, and the Celeron 700MHz is priced at $181, an Intel spokeswoman said.