P4 powers mobile workstations

TORONTO — While IBM may be first out of the gates with the launch of high-performance Intel-powered mobile workstations, the competition is not far behind, says one industry analyst.

IBM Wednesday launched the ThinkPad A31p

notebook, which offers extended battery life, wireless connectivity and security and manageability capabilities. The mobile workstations are aimed at users like engineers, designers and developers who need high-speed graphical performance.

“”High resolution display is becoming very important, especially in this segment,”” says Harry Wttewaall, IBM Canada’s national ThinkPad sales specialist. “”And first to the market with a full-size keyboard . . . as well as things like integrated CD and DVD technology”” is refreshing, he adds.

Grant Shenk, IBM Canada’s worldwide product marketing manager for the ThinkPad A series, says the IBM workstations are “”truly mobile and versatile,”” which is unique in this segment.

“”For the past few years IntelliStation customers, in particular, have been asking for the ability to take their very graphic intensive, processor demanding applications, and run them on a mobile solution. And ideally they don’t want to have to throw on a backpack and lug all of these suitcases — that’s not their idea of mobile.””

As such, IBM engineers went back to the drawing board and developed workstation gear that combines beefed-up processing power with the graphics intensive ability, Shenk says, explaining it’s the best of IntelliStation and ThinkPad technology. “”Having a 15 inch screen, having a high-resolution display, fully swappable bays — it’s all of the different functionality and expandability you’d expect.””

The notebook also includes Intel’s Pentium 4 (P4) processor-m and the 845MP chipset that supports a 400 MHz processor system bus, and a double data rate 266 MHz SDRAM. Designed on Intel’s 0.13-micron process technology, these two additives are designed to give the A31p a significant boost in performance while maintaining low average power consumption, helping to deliver an extended battery life, according to Intel of Canada’s country manager, Doug Cooper.

“Specifically, we’re talking about mobile users…the question that comes up is, why do I (the mobile user) need more performance? Now you’ve got a Pentium 4 with

1.7 GHz …Intel will be the first to say that this isn’t about the performance just so you can run applications faster,” Cooper explained. “What you see on your desktop screen, isn’t everything that’s running on that machine. In fact, since 1998 as we go through to the present, we’ve seen a progression of not only more things running on the foreground, but more things running in the background.”

Cooper spoke of the 1.7 and 1.6 versions of P4, a technology it says delivers an estimated 88 per cent improvement in application performance without compromising battery life.

“If you look at Intel’s vision long-term on mobility, what you’ll see is as this becomes untethered, or more inter-connected wirelessly, all of a sudden, battery life becomes extremely important,”” Cooper said.

Michelle Warren, a PC and monitor analyst for Toronto-based Evans Research Corp., says Dell and Toshiba, for example, will likely be nipping at IBM’s heels. “”I would imagine that Intel has partnered up with Toshiba and Dell and Compaq.””

Indeed, the same day IBM rolled out its gear, Dell launched its version of notebooks with what it says is advanced mobile technology. Dell is peddling two notebooks (the Latitude C840 and Inspiron 8200), which it says brings desktop-like performance to consumers and business mobile users.

And while Dell’s equipment is similar to IBM’s in that it’s powered by Intel’s Pentium 4 processor-M, Dell’s units are targeted towards the small business market versus the high end commercial segment as is IBM’s, Warren says.

Additionally, the graphics capabilities are different. “”But the CPU and 845 chipset are the same, which means the battery life issues have been addressed by both companies.””

Warren says the IBM gear can also offer both 802.11b wireless and Bluetooth capabilities. “”It looks like Dell only offers the 802.11 capability.””

IBM’s Wttewaall says the company has FCC regulations to run Bluetooth and802.11 simultaneously. “”That’s something that nobody else can do. But we’ve been able to do it with antenna placement and some other technology.””

And contrary to popular belief, 802.11 and Bluetooth are “”complementary not competitive”” technologies, Wttewaall adds.

So now that IBM has staked its claim in the desktop and high-end notebook markets, what about rolling out smaller, PDA-like gear for consumers? The company is phasing out its WorkPad line, which was its closest thing to a PDA. “”It’s just a matter of how much inventory we have left before that particular product is extinguished,”” says Shenk.

“”As far as future plans for PDAs or technological advancements in handhelds, that will just depend on how the market will develop. If another opportunity presents itself that plays well into our overall strategy, then, yes, we may get back into that.””

Meanwhile, Warren says the PDA market is extremely competitive. “”Palm really owns the space and it’s a highly competitive area right now. Margins are decreasing, and so IBM wants to focus on where to better increase revenues and are therefore cutting costs on production.””

— with files from Liam Lahey

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