Chip makers offer new products to boost the flagging PC market

Despite the slump in PC sales, microprocessor manufacturers are still turning out new products to try to rekindle the market,...

Despite the slump in PC sales, microprocessor manufacturers are still turning out new products to try to rekindle the market, writes Eric Doyle.

Intel is concentrating on low power consumption, AMD is accelerating its low-end Duron chips and Transmeta is turning its attention to the peripherals and networking markets.

Intel has released 12 new chips, including the fastest mobile processor so far, the Pentium III-M 1.2GHz. Another release, the PIII-M 700MHz running at 0.95 volts and requiring less than 0.5 watts, has the lowest power consumption of any mobile chip. The company also revealed six Celeron processors for the low-end PC market.

The six mobile PIII-M chips are designed for the mini and sub-notebooks market but the company also points out their suitability for use in the clipboard-like Tablet PCs which are starting to appear on the market.

Apart from the need for low power to reduce heat output in the confined casing of these PCs, battery life has also been addressed through the introduction of what Intel calls a "deeper sleep" mode. In this idling state, the chips only consume a fraction of their usual power. IBM said this equates to less than 0.2 watts, or a battery life extension of 75%.

Power economies are also achieved through Intel's Speedstep technology, which reduces speed and power consumption when batteries are in use, reducing the rated speed of the processor to about 66% of the mains-powered rating. This means that the 1.2GHz PIII-M runs at 800MHz on batteries, with similar reductions down the range through 800MHz, 750MHz, and 733MHz.

All the chips have a 133MHz bus connection but there is an 800A version for the 100MHz processor. The 700MHz chip achieves its lower rating by cutting its speed to 300MHz in battery mode.

To drive the chips, Intel has also released the mobile 830M chipset and a low-end version, the 830MG, that supports up to 1Gbyte of SDRam. Intel claims that the higher end chipset is 113% faster than its predecessor, the 830EM.

For the small and medium-sized business, the new Celeron processors for desktop PCs clock in at 933MHz, 900MHz, 733MHz, 800MHz and 866MHz. A lower-voltage 650MHz chip has also been added to the range.

Also targeting this market, AMD has introduced a Duron processor that runs at 1.1GHz. The company said systems based on this chip will start to appear before the end of the year. They will be capable of running Windows XP, which is scheduled for launch towards the end of this month.

Transmeta, manufacturer of the Crusoe chip, is moving into the embedded chip market for printers and network equipment. The low-power Crusoe chip is selling well but failed to take the industry by storm following moves by rivals to cover its intended market in low-power portable PCs, Internet appliances and high-density servers.

This has forced the company to broaden its scope to ensure that it can reach critical mass and make Transmeta a force in the industry rather than a niche player.

Next year will see the launch of a low-cost integrated Transmeta chip that will combine a processor, chipset and graphics chip. The company will also soon be offering a high-performance Crusoe chip aimed at high-end notebooks.

Read more on Data centre hardware