Intel plans two path development for mobile chips

Overlaps, underlays

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Intel Corp will continue to incorporate its desktop processor technology, including the successor to Pentium 4, into its mobile product line well after the launch of the mobile only Banias architecture next year.

The vendor had previously said that the Pentium 4M line, introduced earlier this year, would overlap with Banias, which is the first chip architecture the vendor has designed exclusively for the mobile space. However, Intel had not given any firm indication whether future Pentium cores would be adopted for the notebook market.

This week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose the vendor said that it would continue to produce Pentium-based devices for full featured notebooks for customers who may not want all the benefits Banias is likely to bring. And it added that future desktop architectures would continue to be fed through to mobile designs.

Banias, which is expected in the first quarter of next year, is being designed with wireless networking in mind. The chip will use a range of techniques to cut down on power usage, which will offset the heavy power drain wireless networking imposes. Intel is pitching this as true mobility, with users only needing to use a cable to charge up a battery.

At the same time, the mobile industry has been taken surprise this year by the success of portable PCs that feature full scale desktop processors, particularly in the Far East. While such machines offer comparatively scanty battery life, they are cheaper than notebooks using mobile specific processors. Their success suggests a larger than expected demand for "marginally mobile" products, which may not be thin and light, but which do offer all the benefits of a desktop PC.

Don MacDonald, Intel's director of mobile platforms marketing, said continuing to produce Pentium-based products meant the company could appeal to customers who "do not want to pay for the battery life" that Banias is slated to deliver. He added that "when we have two products we can be more flexible."

This means a mobile version of Prescott, the next version of Pentium 4 which is due next year, will eventually be developed, and that follow-on desktop architectures would be fed back into the mobile group's roadmap.

This week at IDF Intel detailed the Banias architecture for the first time since revealing the chip's existence in August 2001. The chip will have 77 million transistors when it debuts in the first half of next year. It will feature optimized speculation and advanced branch prediction. The aim is to reduce the number of wasted instructions, which in turn reduces the amount of wasted energy.

The chip will also use micro operations fusion, in effect joining instructions so that they can be processed together. A large cache will be used in the chip to increase its data bandwidth. The chip's system bus will only switch on those elements needed to process data. One Intel engineer said the chip differed from traditional designs, in that components would only be switched on when needed.

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