Mobile Pentium II chips dent laptop battery life

As the leading OEMs launch their latest notebooks based on Intel's new Pentium II mobile processor, questions are being asked about power consumption of the new chip. Reports from the US suggest that while performance levels can rise by 20%, power consumption increases by up to 30%. "The Pentium II is sort of a setback if you look at battery life," says IDC's semiconductor analyst, Kelly Henry.

As the leading OEMs launch their latest notebooks based on Intel’s new Pentium II mobile processor, questions are being asked about power consumption of the new chip.

Reports from the US suggest that while performance levels can rise by 20%, power consumption increases by up to 30%.

“The Pentium II is sort of a setback if you look at battery life,” says IDC’s semiconductor analyst, Kelly Henry.

But Intel New Zealand’s general manager, Scott Gilmour, says the increase in power consumption is well within Intel’s expected limits and is more than compensated for by the increase in performance.

“It [the Pentium II] is better than the old 166MHz MMX Pentium but isn’t better than the 233 and 266 Tillamook,” says Gilmour, who is quick to point out that “while it’s not better, it’s still very good”.

Intel measures its power usage in terms of a thermal design power (TDP) envelope rating. Gilmour says Intel aims to keep the TDP below 8 watts for both CPU and level 2 cache. Both 233MHz and 266MHz Pentium II mobile chips manage that, according to Gilmour. “We have about a 20% to 30% increase [in performance] over the 233 MMX, as well as keeping below the 8-watt TDP,” says Gilmour. The 266 Pentium II generates 7.8 watts of TDP, while the older 266 MMX Pentium generated only 5.3.

Gilmour says Intel has implemented several design changes in an effort to minimise power usage.

“In the new mini cartridge we’ve got an exposed die which helps get rid of some of the heat in the CPU.”

Another feature allows the CPU to slow down the clock speed after finishing a routine, reducing power usage.

The mobile Pentium II chips also include a thermal sensor integrated into the core of the processor, giving the system a more accurate reading of the chip temperature.

This ensures the cooling fan is switched on and off more efficiently than in previous models.

Most of the New Zealand vendors now have Pentium II notebooks in their line-ups. Midrange notebooks have between 32Mb and 64Mb of RAM, 4Gb to 8Gb hard drives and either 13.3in or 14.1in screens. Prices range from about $5800 up to $10,000 ex GST. Toshiba, Dell and Hewlett-Packard all have DVD (digital versatile disks) drives included in their top-of-the-range models, although with price tags around $13,000 they are aimed at senior corporate users rather than road warriors.

Intel plans to launch the 300MHz Pentium II mobile chips in the US in the second half of this year. Future versions of the chip, scheduled for release in early 1999, will integrate the level 2 cache into the same piece of silicon as the processor, hopefully reducing power consumption.

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