Intel CULV chips will change laptops

Hits the sweet spot

INTEL LAUNCHED FOUR new laptop processors today, three Core Number Numerals at the top, and a the long awaited Consumer Ultra Low Voltage (CULV) parts on the bottom. Ironically, the slowest of these is the one that will change the market.

The Core Number Numeral (CNN) parts are the P8800, P9700, and the T9900, all at the top of their respective categories. The CULV part is called SU2700, branded as a Pentium, and it is the one to watch. Together, with a new chipset and NIC/WLAN, they form the Montevina Plus platform.

All of the new CNN chips sport two cores, a 1066FSB, and have 6 megs of cache. If you haven’t been paying attention to the lineup, that means they are all part of the 45nm Penryn family. It all seems fairly banal until you realize that the slowest of the new chips, the P8800, runs at 2.66GHz. From there, the P9700 ups the ante to 2.80GHz, and the T9900 speeds along at a stunning 3.06GHz.

In the end however, these there are just are just speed bumps, the little brother at the bottom of the bin is the one to watch. The SU2700 forms an entirely new market segment CULV. It runs at a piddling 1.3GHz, has ‘only’ one core, 2MB of cache, and an 800MHz FSB. Why is this important? Form factor.

Before today, the Intel CPU lineup meant if you wanted really low power, you could choose the Atom parts, or the horridly expensive ULV parts. Atoms are really not meant for day to day use no matter what people might say, you hit the glass ceiling regularly in the real world. The ULV line is amazing, expensive, and relegated to a pretty mediocre 945G based chipset.

Ironically, despite the cost, the ULV chips are in this writer’s opinion the best laptop parts on the market. They are enough to do almost everything needed, run any OS you throw at them, and coupled with an SSD, have a battery life of almost forever. But there is that cost bit…. and OEMs that seem to wrap them in even more expensive cases that do not complement the chipset.

You could call the gap between sub-$500 Atom netbooks and $2000+ thin and light notebooks like the Dell Adamo and Voodoo Envy gaping, but most people would refer to it as a chasm. This chasm was noticed by Via/Centaur and AMD, both of which slotted parts into it. This not only proved that it could be done, but that the niche was quickly becoming the market sweet spot.

The HP DV2 I bought the other day is proof of this. It is thin, not hugely light but far from an anvil, and with the ATI chipset it uses, handles graphics tasks notably better than the 945G. A few months later, out comes the SU2700, same rough performance, same rough speeds, and better graphics.

Since they only draw about 10W, CULV parts will enable sub-$1000 thin and light notebooks with decent battery life. The performance kick in the pants it brings over an Atom is pretty startling, especially on demanding tasks, but the lack of a second core, virtual or not, will be missed.

The new chipset, called the GS40, was scarce on details, but it is likely a low power G45 variant with enhanced video decode capabilities. If Intel used something other than the Broadcom decoder that they are coupling with Pineview, I would be surprised. Better video at a low power cost was about the only thing missing from the Intel low power lines, and Intel says it now has been addressed.

Just like they changed how people use laptops for the better, despite howls of protest, by forcing Wi-Fi onto the market, Intel is about to do so again. This time, the end result is going to be a usable laptop in a sub-inch thickness, lighter weight, longer battery life, and an affordable cost. Carryable instead of luggable, while not needing any financing from a collapsing financial system.

CULV is a very good thing, no question there. It could be more powerful. It could be lower cost. It could be a lot of things, but there is one thing for sure, it is going to seriously hurt the netbook segment. Expect this part, and the inevitable expansion of the line, to take a huge chunk of the market in very little time.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate