Computers evolve quickly, which is very much so with microprocessors. For a long time, the
industry's focus was on getting the computers faster and faster, regardless of factors such as size,
heat, and power. Now, with the ever-growing demand for portable systems, size is becoming an
important factor. This especially concerns the microprocessor - one of the hottest and most power-
hungry components in a system. Heat, rate of battery consumption, and processing power are the
three main factors in a processor.
The major processor giants were facing a dilemma when first releasing alaptop. It consumes a large amount of power and it runs very hot. The laptop battery can only hold a certain amount of power and because of the closeness of all the components in the cramped chassis, the chip cannot produce a lot of heat. Furthermore, the chip cannot be cooled with a fan like it is in adesktop because doing so will make the laptop cumbersome and thus importable, defeating the purpose of a laptop. This was especially a problem for AMD's early Athlon Processors that were known to heat up easily.
desktop processor and modified it into a Pentium III 800Mhz laptop processor. As such, the laptops were always a step behind in speed. AMD has the Mobile Sempron Processor for the mobile chassis which is still used today as AMD's budget line processor - a crippled version of the AMD Sempron budget-line desktop processor.
Portable systems were becoming increasingly popular through the 1990s and the industry saw the
need to tackle the limitations of a portable chassis. Several major steps forward were taken. Intel
SpeedStep and AMD PowerNow!technologies were implemented, which adjusts the clockspeed of
the processor when the full speed of the processor was not needed. So processing power is "on
demand" - whenever the processor was downclocked from SpeedStep or PowerNow!, the processor
would save energy.
In March 2003, Intel unveiled the Intel Centrino platform. So what makes the Centrino so special?
You've seen it advertised by almost every laptop manufacturer and a lot of people seem to have it.
The key is that Centrino is a platform, not a Processor. Intel specified that the platform include a
specific chipset, a specific Intel integrated IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi, as well as the Pentium-M processor
in its platform. By allowing one company to make these specifications, power was better managed -
laptops became truly "thin, light, and powerful".
The Intel Pentium-M processor was the major driving force behind the low-power low-heat portable
technology. Instead of implementing the NetBurst processing architecture found in the power-
hungry desktop Pentium 4 processors, Pentium-M processors are based off of the old but proven
Pentium Pro technology. Specifically built from the ground up with mobility in mind, Intel allows
the processor to work fast with a low TDP (Thermal Design Power). It uses a relatively low
clockspeed, but efficient processing made good use of every clock cycle (including shorter pipeline
architecture). The Pentium-M also implemented a fast on-die 1MB Static RAM level two cache
allowing for faster access to data. More on-die cache means the processor can quickly reach for
more data more frequently. At the same time, it continued the implementation of Intel SpeedStep to
save power. Intel revised the Pentium-M and in 2004, they released the Dothan Core Pentium-M
which boasts 400 Mhz and 533 Mhz Front Side Bus speeds and a 2MB level two cache. All these
features and adjustments made the Intel Pentium-M a powerful processor without chewing much
from the battery.
Is Intel's flagship mobile technology right for you? In almost all cases, the answer is yes - power,
mobility, and speed all in one package. Those looking to make the laptop a true mobile system with
desktop-like powers will find what they are looking for with Centrino. There is a downside to
everything, and for the Centrino, it's the slightly high price. Most Intel Centrino laptops are range
from 800 USD and up. Though pricey, the efficient technology is worth it.
AMD followed with the AMD Turion 64 processor in 2005. Unlike the Centrino, AMD Turion 64 is a processor, not a platform. In other words, the laptop manufacturer could designate which chipset to use without being bound to a single company. There are disadvantages though. When using one standardized chipset, it allows for better power management. Although processing power did not reach the heights of the Pentium-M in the Centrino platform, Turion 64 boasts 64-bit processing support whereas the Pentium-M currently does not.
AMD has a new naming scheme laid out for the Turion 64. The numbers we're used to seeing, such
as "3200+" or "1800+", won't be the model numbers you'll see. AMD Turion 64 model numbers
consists of two letters followed by a number. The letters represent the class the processor belongs
in, with the second letter indicating the degree of relative mobility. Relative mobility is shown
greater as the second letter approaches the end of the alphabet - "Z". The numbers denotes rated
performance. So for example, a laptop with a Turion 64 MT-30 processor will have greater mobility
than the same laptop with a Turion 64 ML-34. However, the ML-34 is rated to perform better then a
MT-30 because the number following the letters is greater.
Despite the confusing naming scheme, for some, the AMD Turion 64 may be appealing. Because the Turion 64 is a 64-bit processor, when the new "MS Windows Vista" debuts, you'll be prepared. However, the battery life to power ratio is not as impressive as the Intel Centrino. It is based more on the Athlon 64 than a "built from the ground up" approach that characterizes Intel's Centrino.
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