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Intel pushes low-power chips for sleeker laptops

Ultra-low voltage processor on show in Taipei

Intel is introducing a new low-power processor for what it hopes will be a new class of thin and light laptops that bridge the gap between netbooks and mainstream laptops.

At the Computex trade show in Taipei today, Intel will introduce an ultra-low voltage processor, the Pentium SU2700, for use in sleek laptops that are as light as netbooks but have larger screens and greater functionality.

The chip maker calls them 'ultrathin' laptops and says they will combine the portability of netbooks with the functionality of mainstream laptops at a modest price. Intel expects PC makers to use the new chip in laptops that are less than an inch thick, weigh 2 to 5 pounds and cost $499 to $1,299. They'll have a full-sized keyboard and 12- to 14-inch screens.

The SU2700 is the among the first in a new line of low-power chips that Intel will supply for these ultrathin laptops. The single-core processor runs at 1.3GHz and includes 2MB of cache.

The ultrathin laptops are different from what Intel refers to as ultraportable laptops. The ultraportables use low-voltage versions of Intel's Core 2 chips. The smaller Pentium chip released today draws lesser power and can stretch battery life to eight hours, said Uday Marty, director of product marketing at Intel. It is less powerful than the Core 2 chips, however.

Several ultrathin laptops with the new chip will be on display at Computex this week, Intel said. Lenovo introduced a laptop with the new chip last week, the IdeaPad U350, which starts at $649, weighs about 3.5 pounds and has a 13.3-inch screen.

Lenovo IdeaPad U350

Ideapad U350

Ultrathin laptops fill a need for a device with the portability of a netbook and the functionality of a mainstream laptop, said Jay Chou, research analyst at IDC. They also fill a performance and price gap between netbooks and ultraportable laptops, which are more expensive.

"In tough economic times, [ultrathin laptops] do fill a role. Some people don't need the fancy stuff of a Macbook Air, which is priced well north of $1,500," Chou said. "It's in the early stages, but I do think there is room for them."

The lines may blur between ultrathin laptops and netbooks, as both are small and inexpensive. Intel doesn't see it that way, reasoning that netbooks are for content consumption, surfing the web and email. The functionality of ultrathin laptops is a notch higher, with the ability to multitask, create videos, edit photos and burn DVDs, Marty said.

"We see a pretty clear bifurcation," Marty said.

Intel won't be the first to deliver processors for ultrathin laptops. AMD earlier this year introduced a single-core Neo chip, which went into HP's Pavilion DV2 laptop. AMD is set to bump up Neo's performance with a dual-core version, which will find its way into laptops soon.

Along with the low-voltage processors, Intel also introduced three standard-voltage processors, including the first Core 2 Duo to cross the 3.0GHz threshold. The dual-core T9900 runs at 3.06GHz, includes 6MB of cache, and is priced at $530. The P9700 runs at 2.8GHz, includes 6MB of cache and is priced at $348. The P8800 runs at 2.66Ghz, includes 3MB of cache and is priced at $241.

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