Processors specially developed by Intel for Apple's new MacBook Air laptop will soon be used by other PC vendors in systems, possibly creating competition for what Apple calls the world's lightest and thinnest notebook.
Two PC makers will use the miniaturized Intel Core 2 Duo processors used by Apple in MacBook Air, said a source familiar with Intel's plans. Systems powered by the chips will be released soon, the source said.
The companies' names weren't revealed, but the chip could bring smaller and lighter notebooks that could compete in size and performance with the ultra-thin MacBook Air, which weighs 3 pounds (1.3kg) and measures 0.16 inches (0.4 centimetres) at its thinnest part and 0.76 inches (1.93cm) at its thickest part.
Apple asked Intel to develop powerful chips for MacBook Air that are 60 per cent smaller than the normal size, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said during a keynote address at the Macworld Conference and Expo earlier this month. Intel obliged, which led to the development of smaller Core 2 Duo processors.
"All you have to do is check out the size and shape of the MacBook Air to see what the shrink enables -- smaller, lighter form factors that were physically not possible before," an Intel spokeswoman, Connie Brown, said.
The MacBook Air comes with miniaturized Intel Core 2 Duo processors running at either 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz, with the Intel 965GMS chipset and integrated graphics. Manufactured using the 65-nanometre process, the chips belong to Intel's Merom family of processors.
Intel shrunk the CPU and chipset for a 60 per cent reduction in total footprint to comparable Merom processors, Brown said. While delivering similar performance, the chips use 20 watts of power, lower than comparable Merom chips that use 35 watts.
The miniaturized chip was designed for Apple, but other PC makers can use it, Brown said.
PC manufacturers could adopt the miniaturized Merom CPU in mini desktops or subnotebooks, but the Mac OS X Leopard operating system gives MacBook Air an advantage, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64. Other systems could be based on Windows or Linux.
Apple also has a leg up in product design, which potential MacBook Air competitors will find hard to emulate, Brookwood said.
"What has resulted from Apple's move to Intel chips is its forcing other OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to pay more attention to the styling of their systems, which is clearly an advantage for users," Brookwood said.
This was the first time Intel developed a small form-factor chip from a normal-sized mobile processor, Brown said.
However, Intel has talked about developing chips with smaller form factors in the past.
At the Intel Developer Forum last year, Intel talked about shrinking the size of chips by up to 60 per cent for its next-generation Montevina mobile platform, which will include the new Penryn processors manufactured using the 45nm process. The small form-factor chips will be released shortly after the normal-sized chips, due to ship by the middle of this year.
It's not a coincidence that both Intel and Apple have talked about a 60 per cent size reduction in chips, Brookwood said. Apple has taken a step ahead by adopting the Merom processor for the MacBook Air, and a natural path of progression is to upgrade to the small form-factor Penryn processors that will be part of Montevina, he said.
Apple doesn't comment on future products, a company spokesman wrote in an email.