Cooler-running Notebooks from HP, Toshiba, et al.

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Cooler-running Notebooks from HP, Toshiba, et al.
R. Krause - May 10, 2000

Event Summary

April 18, 2000 [Source: AMD press release]-- AMD announced the Mobile AMD-K6-III+ and Mobile AMD-K6-2+ processor families with speeds up to 500MHz. Hewlett-Packard has chosen the 475MHz Mobile AMD-K6-2+ processor to power its Pavilion N3215 notebook PC, and Toshiba has chosen these processors for its Tecra and Portege The first mobile devices to be manufactured on AMD's advanced 0.18 micron technology, these processors support a number of notable features including high-speed on-chip L2 cache, AMD's innovative PowerNow! battery saving technology and an enhanced implementation of AMD's 3DNow! instruction set with digital signal processing (DSP) instructions.

April 17, 2000 [Source: Toshiba press release] - Demonstrating its engineering dominance in the computing market, Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc. (TAIS), Computer Systems Group (CSG) announced the .80-inch-thin Portg 3440CT portable computer with Super Cooling technology. A milestone in thermodynamic design, Toshiba's Super Cooling enables increased performance levels in ultra-thin designs.

May 1, 2000 - Phoenix Technologies Ltd., a leading BIOS manufacturer, announced that PowerSuite 4.0 will allow notebooks to extend battery life by providing the ability to control both the speed and the voltage level of the notebook's CPU. The first products to use this will be part of Sony's VAIO product line. Early testing indicated battery life extension of around 18% when running one set of tests.

Market Impact

Although Intel currently controls the corporate notebook market, AMD is winning in the retail space. This will help it gain a larger foothold in Corporate America. In addition to the product wins for AMD, the PowerNow! technology is another example of AMD taking the fight to Intel.

Intel announced its SpeedStep technology, seemingly in response to the long-awaited Transmeta unveiling. The market welcomed the idea of being able to increase notebook battery life, even if the products aren't shipping yet. (Although the focus here is on AMD, Intel's SpeedStep technology benefits the consumer, too.) AMD has been a half-step behind Intel in some of its announcements relative to technology and marketing, that is a lot closer than they were three years ago, and a trend curve might show them passing Intel eventually.

We see HP and Toshiba as being winners here, as well. (Assuming the PowerNow! chips work as promised.) Although the PowerNow! technology will not be available until mid-year due to the need for a new BIOS and motherboard, we expect these products to sell well.

Who doesn't want a notebook with much longer battery life? Battery life is the third leg of a notebook feature trinity/Holy Grail: large screen, lightweight, and long battery life. Previously, increasing battery life meant beefing up the battery, which meant increased weight, this announcement helps mitigate that. We believe that highly mobile users will be willing to give up a little performance in exchange for much longer usage. We expect Compaq will eventually follow suit for its Presario and "Notebook 100" lines, leaving only Dell as an Intel holdout.

In addition to the hardware technologies described, the new BIOS technology from Phoenix will add yet another way to help users conserve power and battery life. Although Phoenix has now made an investment in Transmeta (CPU developer and new home of Linux creator Linus Torvalds), the new BIOS will help Intel and AMD compete against one of Transmeta's big selling points. There is a possibility that Phoenix will only let Transmeta use the new BIOS, but we think that highly unlikely.

We cannot resist making a comment on Toshiba's "milestone Super Cooling" technology: as best we can tell, it's just a heat pipe. Heat pipes have been around since the 1960's, and have been tried in computers before, along with other types of ebullition (i.e., boiling) cooling. They are terrific at cooling, but they ain't new. While we acknowledge that Toshiba has probably made a good choice of cooling technologies, calling it a milestone is not unlike calling Windows 98 a milestone.

User Recommendations

"Road warriors", i.e., users who spend a lot of time away from AC power, will want to check out these products. The AMD chips will be aimed at the lower-price notebooks initially, and corporate users generally prefer more bells and whistles, but we believe some businesses will be looking at stretching their IT budgets, and this price-point may be where they want to be.

As with any new technology (we mean the PowerNow!, not the "Super Cooling", of course), users should make sure that they the test the hardware adequately before making a major commitment to large quantities of these units. Although Intel has had its own problems, AMD is not perfect.

Given the system requirements for Windows 2000, we do not currently recommend users purchase these notebooks with Win2K pre-loaded. If you must have something more robust than Windows 98, then Windows NT 4.0 should be considered before Win2K. (Users of PowerSuite 4.0 excluded - it is currently only compatible with Win 9x and Windows 2000.)

Before recommending that users look for PowerSuite 4.0 in their notebooks, we suggest waiting until one of the major notebook manufacturers (e.g.,Compaq, Toshiba, Dell) adopts it. Phoenix is a quality BIOS developer, but we generally advise some caution with any new technology.

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