Pentium II Notebooks

Pentium II Notebooks

Mobile users keep pace without having to chase the latest in chips

By Mark A. Kellner

Special to GCN

If the irresistible temptation in the computer world is to go for the latest and greatest, here's some good news: The Intel Pentium II processor, almost retro by desktop PC standards, is still going strong for portable computers.

Although desktop PC users pine for Intel's Pentium III CPU, their portable-using counterparts are getting faster-than-ever 400-MHz mobile Pentium II chips.

The delay is partly the result of the twists and turns of Intel Corp.'s chip-releasing schedule. At deadline for this Buyers Guide, wire service reports quoted a company spokesman as saying that the much-anticipated Pentium III for mobile PCs, due in September, won't be announced until the end of the year.

And although such statements are often followed by announcements of new machines from a raft of manufacturers, it also usually takes some time for a next-generation processor to hit the market in large quantities.

All told, then, it appears that a notebook Pentium III will not be available before the end of the fiscal year, leaving users to ask: Is a Pentium II system worth buying?

For all but the most advanced applications the answer is yes.

'A very narrow [market] niche will need [Pentium] III initially; those who need 3-D kinds of things applied to Web sites,' said Keith Karlsen, director of product marketing for Gateway Inc.'s business unit in Irvine, Calif. 'That's a small niche today, but we think it will grow. We think for the majority of users the Pentium II does a great job.'

Adds Eric Brennan, portable product manager for Compaq Computer Corp., corporate and government users 'thrive on stability and consistency' in a computing platform and will want to stay with the Pentium II for as long as they can.

'Buying a notebook PC with a stable chip set is a good way to take themselves into the new year,' Brennan said.

Indeed, Intel's June 14 announcement of newer and faster mobile Pentium II chips'now running at 400 MHz'emphasized the now-proven performance of the Pentium II.

'Today's work force is becoming increasingly mobile, and mobile Pentium II processors give users the processing power they need to be successful in the evolving Internet-based business world,' Frank Spindler, vice president and director of marketing of Intel's mobile and handheld products group, said. 'These processors deliver the highest performance and capability to run demanding Internet, productivity and multimedia applications for businesses and consumers alike.'

GTSI's Daewoo CN610B has

266-MHz speed with 32M of RAM

and a 6G hard drive. It's priced

at $1,932.

Easy support

Those features are important to information technology shops that may be weathering both a shift to Microsoft Windows NT and the hassles of preparing for 2000. Although many shops are quickly gaining ground on, or have completed, year 2000 preparations, introducing unfamiliar items into the support mix is not eagerly embraced.

Introduced for mobile users a scant 15 months ago, the mobile Pentium II was an evolutionary move forward for portable PC processors. It combined the multimedia extensions of the Pentium MMX chip, which Intel still sells for low-end mobile PCs, with a more direct means of accessing the system bus, faster data throughput and processing power.

A side effect of mobile processing is heat displacement, something easy to deal with in desktop PCs'add one or two cooling fans and stir'but not so easy to handle in a notebook PC where space is at a premium.

Thus, users want a smaller and cooler processor. Intel officials said it is now building and shipping mobile Pentium II microprocessors manufactured using an 0.18- micron process technology, which allows the processor to be smaller, faster and more powerful than its 0.25-micron predecessors.

Using less electrical power'and thus extending battery life'is also important for the mobile user, as anyone crunching to get a presentation finished before landing will affirm.

The mobile Pentium II uses Intel's mobile-specific low-power modes to help extend battery life.

The low-power states include a Quick Start mode that reduces power to just 0.5 watt and a deep-sleep power mode where power is at a mere 0.15 watt. To further address the unique thermal requirements of mobile PCs, the processors operate on a reduced internal core voltage of 1.6 volts.

To top it all off, the new mobile Pentium IIs include a 256-Kbps full-speed, on-die, Level 2 cache, which is the high-speed memory between the processor and the main memory. Intel officials said that incorporating the cache on-die, which means combining it with the CPU into one component, eliminates the need for separate components. As a result, although the 256-Kbps on-die Level 2 cache is half the size of the 512-Kbps external cache provided with previous mobile processors, it provides processor access that is three times faster, resulting in significant improvements in performance.

What's more, streamlining the components allows an increase in transistors, with more than 27 million transistors provided on the 400-MHz mobile Pentium II.

The WinBook XL2 from Winbook

Computer has a 400-MHz processor,

64M of RAM, a 6G hard drive and a

14.1-inch screen. It's priced at $2,999.

Of course, no notebook can rise or fall solely on its processor. A fast processor in a bad computer isn't worth much, nor are top-flight components if they're operating slowly.

Pleasing wares

Fortunately, the latest round of notebook PCs is full of enhancements designed for user satisfaction. Almost all are three-spindle designs, which allow users to have a floppy drive, CD- or DVD-ROM and hard drive in one package. Although floppies are as old-fashioned as Intel's 80186 processor'still sold for embedded systems and other applications but almost never seen in desktop PCs'they're still vital on the road.

And, if the TV commercials are true, DVD is great for watching a movie while you're waiting for a flight.

Each of these peripherals are essential items in real-world applications as well, with DVD emerging as a standard not only for multimedia presentations but for massive data storage. DVD-writable drives are just coming into the corporate mainstream. With video editing and DVD-ROM recording suites priced at around $3,000, it's a safe bet that more agencies will adopt this technology for multimedia presentations that need to be distributed to a field force.

Other important factors for mobile users include enhanced battery life, which is found in many guises'for example, extra drive bays that can handle additional batteries.

Compaq's Armada 3500 can

detach from the portion holding

its multimedia devices, which

lightens the load when carrying it

around. It's priced at $2,899.

There are connectivity options such as Universal Serial Bus, which is a near-total standard for notebooks now, and sufficient card slots to handle PC Card modems, Ethernet adapters or both. Built-in modems are also common.

About the only cloud on the Pentium II notebook horizon was a rumor of a shortage of LCD screens for the devices. But both Compaq's Brennan and Gateway's Karlsen said supplies are holding steady.

That leaves users with another pressing question: Do you want a 5G or 10G hard drive with your notebook?

Tips for buyers

  • Processor. The Pentium II designed for mobile PCs is the best choice. The CPUs are smaller, use less power and generate less heat than earlier Pentium II chips. A cool notebook is a happy notebook.

  • RAM. As with desktop PCs, it's usually more expensive to add memory after you buy a new machine. For notebook users, the sometimes higher cost is an extra motivation to start with 64M or even 128M.

  • Screen. Active-matrix LCDs are inexpensive enough and available in sufficient quantities to make their specification a given for notebooks. At the low end, high-contrast screens perform adequately and cost less.

  • Slice. Sometimes called a wedge or extension, a slice adds drive bays or other features to a small portable PC. The part can be detached for lighter traveling.

  • Hard drive. Sizes for portable hard
    drives are increasing as prices decrease. Many makers sell 5G and 10G drives, leading to descriptions of some mobile PCs as a LAN in a can. One maker reports that some organizations set up portable networks for doing audits in the field.

  • Battery. Lithium ion is the favorite among travelers because of its long life and power availability. Many users pack a spare for extended use in flight.

Mark A. Kellner is a free-lance technology writer in Marina del Rey, California. E-mail him at

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