AMD, Intel Providing New Mobile Processor Options

At this week's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel provided details of its upcoming Sonoma mobile platform, which is being targeted at the business market, where it will be used in ultra-light and thin laptops. AMD announced its newest mobile platform, code named Turion, also for the ultra-light portable PC market.

The mobile PC market is growing faster than any other computing platform, according to In-Stat/MDR. Mobile PCs account for a quarter of all PCs shipped, and that will increase to close to a third by 2008 as many consumers and businesses switch to mobile PCs as their preferred platform, the research firm says.

"The mobile market is really where the action is going forward," agrees Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "It's also an area where there's a real proliferation of form factors and usage requirements, so there's a real demand for different types of processors that can address the specific models."

Intel's Sonoma will push the four vectors the company has set for its mobile-processor business: small form factor, uncompromised performance, long battery life, and improved wireless capabilities, says Shmuel Eden, VP and director of Intel's Mobile Platform Group. The Pentium M processor in Sonoma will exceed 2.0 GHz, and will be the first mobile chip to feature a 533-MHz front-side bus, up from the previous 400-MHz front-side bus, which will improve overall throughput.

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The chipset includes a new graphics engine that will provide up to twice the overall performance previously available with Centrino, making it possible for all but the most high-end graphics applications to be completed without an additional third-party graphics chip, Eden says. It will support A-, B-, and G-mode wireless LAN standards, and its wireless capability will be more user friendly, according to Eden. "Two years ago it was said that wireless was user friendly, but that was because you needed a lot of friends to be able to use it," Eden says. "This is truly making wireless a simple experience."

The Sonoma chipset, which will be marketed under the Centrino brand name, already is set to power 150 models of laptops, 80 of which are expected to be introduced by computer makers in January or February. Eden says Intel will have its planned dual-core mobile processor ready by year's end, with full production scheduled for 2006.

Intel's mobile efforts, including its Pentium M processor and Centrino wireless chipset, have been one of the company's best success stories in the past 18 months, Illuminata's Haff says. Revenue from its mobile PC business could top $10.8 billion by 2008, according to In-Stat/MDR. "What Intel has done with Centrino is really create a market for mobile devices," Haff says.

Systems based on AMD's Turion are expected to begin shipping in the first half of this year, according to Bahr Mahony, division marketing manager for AMD's mobile-business segment. The processor, based on the hybrid 32/64-bit AMD64 architecture, is optimized for use in thin and light notebook PCs. "The mobile market is experiencing tremendous growth," Mahony says. "With that growth, and the varied number of usage models, we need to provide mobile processors that cover the spectrum."

Turion will complement AMD's existing mobile processors: Sempron, a 32-bit processor targeted at the entry-level market; and Mobile Athlona, a 32/64-bit hybrid processor targeted at the high-end and desktop-replacement market. AMD expects to share details of the Turion processor, including clock speed and power usage, later this year, Mahony says. Some customers are testing the chipset, and AMD is working with partners to ensure it's compatible with all wireless LAN standards, he says.