Mobile CPU Overview

Introduction & Preliminary Mobile CPUs 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 powerhungry 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 a laptop. 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 a desktop 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. Initially, the processors that were fitted into a laptop were crippled desktop processors. By making the processor run below its full potential speed, it consumed less power and it gave off less heat. Intel and AMD both adopted this method - for example, Intel may have taken a Pentium III 1Ghz 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. Centrino: The Mobile Platform 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".

Intel Centrino Mobile Technology 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 powerhungry 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 Turion 64 - AMD's reply & Conclusion 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 Turion 64 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. The AMD Turion 64 chip and the Centrino Technology are both targeted at mainstream to high-end users. In the lower end, Intel developed the Celeron-M - not to be confused with Mobile Celeron.

The Intel Celeron-M is a derivative of the preliminary Pentium-M chip, the Bainas core CPUs. Certain functions such as the power saving Intel SpeedStep technology are disabled. The processor is clocked lower and the level two cache is cut down to 512k as opposed to 1MB found in the Bainas Pentium-M. Like the AMD Turion 64 though, the Celeron-M is not a platform but rather a processor. In case you're in the market for a budget laptop, the Intel Celeron-M is a good choice for the "thin and light" category, but you won't see battery life like you would on Intel Centrino. AMD currently has the Mobile Sempron competing with the Celeron-M - while it's still worth consideration even as it is an adapted version of the desktop processor, looking into either the Celeron-M or the Turion 64/Centrino category is usually more recommendable. With size remaining an ever-important factor in a system purchase, Intel and AMD are in full blast to find faster, more efficient processors. Currently, Intel is developing the Intel Pentium-M chip with a 65nm fabrication process and two execution cores on a single die. Dual Core technology, which is already seen in servers and desktops, boosts multi-tasking abilities by allowing two threads of data to be processed simultaneously. Mobile computing won't be the one step behind the desktop due to space constraints - it will be right alongside the big guys. Whether it be more efficient processing or faster clock speed, the future looks bright for laptop computing.