(03/19/2001) – Notebooks break the Gigahertz barrier with Intel Corp.’s launch today of its 1-GHz mobile Pentium III processor–available now in systems from most major vendors.
And, based on PC World tests of five of the first 1-GHz systems, you might want to consider trading your old desktop for one these portable powerhouses. They are that good.
As with the release last year of the first 1-GHz desktop processors, the 1-GHz mark seems to carry an emotional wallop–especially for the chipmaker. Intel’s Don MacDonald, director of marketing for the Intel Mobile Group, calls the launch a “culmination of ten years of mobile innovations” and suggested it signifies “a new era in mobile computing.”
Grand visions aside, the announcement is a notable achievement, especially as Advanced Micro Devices Inc. gears up to take on Intel with the long-awaited mobile version of its Athlon processor, expected by the middle of this year.
Now that they’re here, just how fast is a 1-GHz notebook?
Testing the first five
PC World tested five of the first laptops to use the new chip, ranging from a thin-and-light WinBook model to full-featured Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba units and desktop replacements from Dell and Gateway. All of them have at least 128MB of SDRAM, 20GB or larger hard disks, 8X DVD-ROM drives, and either Windows 2000 Professional or Windows Millennium Edition.
As expected, these 1-GHz systems reached highs on PC WorldBench 2000 tests. A shipping WinBook X1 earned a score of 178, the top mark for this group; it also had the lowest resolution of the systems here, at 1024 by 768 (lower resolution tends to yield higher scores). The unit comes with 320MB of main memory, with 312MB allocated to general tasks and 8MB set for graphics. A preproduction Toshiba Tecra 8200, with 256MB of SDRAM, posted the next-highest score, 172.
A preproduction Dell Inspiron 8000 and a shipping HP OmniBook 6000, both with 128MB of SDRAM, aren’t far behind, with PC WorldBench 2000 scores of 169 and 168, respectively. These units offer a boost of about 4 percent over the average of eight similar notebooks with Pentium III-850/700 chips, previously the fastest available for laptops. The new units are still approximately 8 percent slower than the average of three 1-GHz Pentium III desktops, but many users won’t see any performance difference when running typical business applications.
Great as these systems are, top honors still go to a Pentium III 850/700-based IBM ThinkPad A21p system. Equipped with 256MB of RAM, this super-fast system is at the upper limit of its processor class. (All of the above notebooks were tested with Windows 2000.)
The shipping Gateway Solo 9500, the only one of the five running Windows Me, garnered a top-notch 158 on PC WorldBench 2000, the highest yet for a Windows Me laptop and a match for the average of four Win Me-based 1-GHz PIII desktops tested. The unit is also about 9 percent faster than the average of three PIII-850 laptops. All have 128MB of SDRAM. (Windows Me systems typically score lower on PC World tests than Windows 2000 PCs.)
Battery life is also good for these units: The HP lasted an impressive 3 hours, 19 minutes; the Toshiba and Gateway each managed nearly 3 hours. The Dell was still good at 2 hours, 41 minutes. The WinBook trailed at 2 hours, 15 minutes; unlike the others, it does not have Intel’s battery-saving SpeedStep technology enabled (units will ship with SpeedStep enabled, however).
Challenging the desktop
Although these systems don’t have the stop-in-your-tracks appeal of Apple’s widescreen PowerBook G4, each has plenty to offer.
Dell’s Inspiron 8000 and Gateway’s Solo 9500 are true desktop replacements. Both pack top-notch components, including roomy 32GB hard disks, DVD-ROM drives, at least one media bay each, 56-kbps modems, touchpads, and fast IEEE 1394 ports. The Dell also has great graphics, thanks to NVidia’s new GeForce2 Go chip set with 32MB of DDR SDRAM and a sharp 15-inch LCD with 1600 by 1200 resolution. The Solo’s screen is larger–15.7 inches–but its ATI Mobility M4 graphics chip set offers less memory (16MB of SGRAM) and supports a maximum resolution of just 1280 by 1024.
The Dell tested offers built-in Ethernet and a pointing stick, as well as extra buttons to launch Internet and user-programmed apps or control your DVD-ROM drive. Gateway provides the quick-launch application buttons but no external drive controls. At CDN$4979 [estimate], the Dell offers a slightly better deal than Gateway’s $5325 Solo. However, the Solo gives you the bigger screen, an LS-120 floppy drive, and a fiber-optic digital audio channel; it also weighs bit less (8.9 pounds versus 9.3 pounds).
A selection out of the chute
Mainstream small-business and corporate buyers who are in the market for lighter, full-featured notebooks have first-rate options in both HP’s OmniBook 6000 unit and Toshiba’s Tecra 8200. Each offers a stable platform, which corporate buyers prefer, without sacrificing features or performance. The HP’s 15-inch screen is larger (the Toshiba’s is 14.1 inches), as is its hard disk–30GB versus the Toshiba’s 20GB. HP gives you a pointing stick and a touchpad, plus the option of an internal floppy drive; the Toshiba’s floppy is external only, and it lacks a touchpad.
You pay a bit more for the Tecra–$6695 versus $6299 for the HP–but you also get twice the main memory and graphics memory. And a wireless 802.11b antenna and circuitry are built in, so you can use the Tecra on a wireless network from the get-go. It weighs less, too: 7.5 pounds versus 8.1 pounds for the HP. Both offer a 56-kbps modem, Ethernet, and a media bay (taken by a DVD-ROM drive in our models).
WinBook’s sleek X1 crams plenty into its 1-inch-thick case: a 13.3-inch screen, 320MB of SDRAM, a 20GB hard disk, a fixed DVD-ROM drive, a 56-kbps modem, and Ethernet. It’s also the lightest notebook here, weighing in at just 6.8 pounds (including a USB floppy drive). DVD playback was not quite as sharp and smooth as on the others, though, perhaps because of the X1’s unusual graphics subsystem, which borrows up to 64MB of graphics memory from the main memory. All in all, those power-hungry travelers who count each and every pound they must carry should be satisfied with the X1, an excellent value at $4499.
Other major vendors such as Compaq and IBM will also offer 1-GHz notebooks.
More fast mobile chips to come
Meanwhile, Intel is preparing to launch its next mobile CPU, code-named Tualatin, in the second half of 2001. Although it uses some of the same technology as current mobile PIIIs, Tualatin will have a new CPU core with new features and should debut at speeds above 1 GHz. It will also be Intel’s first CPU to use a .13-micron manufacturing process, upping performance and lowering power consumption (most chips today are made using a .18-micron process).
Intel competitors AMD and Transmeta have new mobile products in the wings, too. Transmeta, maker of super-low-voltage Crusoe CPUs, has continued to improve its code-morphing software and plans new Crusoe TM5800 chips for the second half of 2001. Made using the .13-micron process, the new chips should reach 800-MHz speeds by year’s end. Also look for more Crusoe-based notebooks in the United States later this year, according to the company (only Sony has released laptops using Crusoe chips in the United States thus far).
AMD’s next Athlon processor, code-named Palomino, is designed to meet both mobile and desktop needs. The new chips will arrive on the mobile market first and should appear in notebooks in the second quarter of this year. These chips will have AMD’s PowerNow technology, and chip sets should support Athlon’s 200-MHz front-side bus, as well as both SDRAM and DDR memory. HP has said that it will use the new chip in some consumer notebooks.
Typically, you can save upward of $450 and not lose much in performance with a notebook that uses a CPU one or two levels down from the top. You may miss other improvements, such as faster graphics or built-in Ethernet, that add appeal to the overall platform for the highest-end systems, however. In either case, you certainly won’t lack for choices. And the new 1-GHz systems offer plenty of power to back up their style.
Tom Mainelli, PCWorld.com, contributed to this report.
Prices listed are in Cdn currency.