Mobility needs better graphics, less power

With the launch of Centrino notebook technology and Manitoba cell-phone processor behind the company, Intel started talking Wednesday at the Intel Developer Forum about the next generation of both of those product lines.

Centrino, a package of chips including a processor, chipset and wireless chip will be followed by a next-generation mobile platform known as Sonoma, said Anand Chandrasekher, vice president and co-general manager of Intel's mobile platforms group.

Sonoma will be released in the second half of 2004 with a dual-band wireless chip and a new chipset, code-named Alviso. Chandrasekher confirmed at a briefing for press and analysts after his speech that Sonoma will use Dothan as the platform processor. Dothan is the company's 90-nanometer version of the Pentium M and will be released later this year with a 2M byte cache.

The new Sonoma platform will also include new audio technology known as Azalia, which improves the sound quality of music, movies, and games on notebooks, Chandrasekher said.

The Alviso chipset will come with support for PCI Express and the new ExpressCard standard for expansion cards, said Don MacDonald, director of marketing for the mobile platforms group, during the briefing. It will also support DDR2 (double data rate) memory, which is quicker and more efficient than current DDR memory, he said.

Notebook designers who don't want to wait for Sonoma can start shipping systems with the new 855GME chipset as of Wednesday. The chipset features Intel Display Power Saving Technology, which allows the system to dim the screen's backlight while maintaining the image brightness and quality on the screen, Chandrasekher said.

The new chipset will also add support for DDR PC2700 (333MHz) memory, MacDonald said. Previous Intel mobile chipsets only supported DDR PC2100 (266MHz) memory, but the new one adds support for memory used extensively in desktop systems, he said.

Cell-phone manufacturers will be able to use Bulverde, Intel's code name for the next generation of XScale technology, in phones starting in 2004. The new chips will incorporate three new technologies that improve graphics performance and reduce battery life, said Ron Smith, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's wireless communications and computing group.

Intel will take the MMX (multimedia extensions) technology that improved graphics performance in its Pentium 4 processors and bring that to Bulverde processors. Smith demonstrated the technology on a prototype Bulverde device running a video game with graphics similar to that of console or PC games.

The new processors will incorporate Wireless SpeedStep, a mobile technology that varies the power consumed by a chip depending on the requirements of a particular task. This is a common technique used by notebook processors, and will help extend battery life in cell phones and other handhelds, Smith said.

For cell phones with cameras, Intel developed Quick Capture technology for upcoming processors. This will allow phones to take up to four-megapixel images and capture moving video, Smith said.

During the briefing, Intel also talked about its plans for building location-aware technologies and fuel cells for mobile platforms, without providing too many details. Those technologies are under development in Intel's labs, and will probably make their way into future products, Chandrasekher said.

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Tom Krazit

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