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Giz Explains: Under the Hood of the Newest Laptops and Mobile Gear

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If your head's spinning from the buckets of chip splooge that's shot out over the past couple days, we don't blame you. There's been a new mobile chip launched or announced by every major player in the biz (Intel, AMD, Nvidia and Via), so no wonder it's all sticky and running together. Don't worry, here's a quick guide to what matters, who makes it, and what kind of stuff you'll see it in.


Like it or not, Intel's the biggest player in the game, so they've got essentially two major entries for mobile. First up is Montevina, soon to be known to your mother as Centrino 2. It was supposed to launch this month, but was delayed until August for a full rollout. It's a "platform" for notebooks, so it's got a few different components, like a Penryn Core 2 Duo processor and a wireless module (two options, one flavor has WiMax). It's basically nimbler all around than the preceding Santa Rosa platform-speedier front-side bus, faster RAM, better integrated graphics-but solid emphasis on battery life too. It'll basically be in any of the full-sized notebooks worth buying after this summer, and probably in the next MacBook/MacBook Pro release.


The ballyhooed Atom chips actually cover two classes of devices: so called "mobile internet devices"' (a vague category between a smartphone and a tiny laptop) and budget, smaller notebooks ("netbooks," "mini-notebooks," whatever you like), including the Eee PC 901 and MSI's Wind, with chips running from 800MHz to 1.86GHz, and an average power use of 160 to 220mW. As Jon at Ars sums up in his nitty gritty coverage, it's not quite "there" yet, but it's just a foot in the door for Intel.



I've been feeling so bad for AMD lately. Hopefully, its just-launched mobile platform, Puma, will help start turning things around. Its CPU soul is a Turion X2 Ultra, which has the nifty feature of adjusting power levels on the fly for each core. Another winning aspect is the integrated Radeon 3000 graphics, which AMD believes totally pwns Intel's, with three times the 3D performance and five times the HD quality (maybe something useful came out of the AMD/ATI merger after all?) Also, it can flip between using integrated and discrete graphics to save juice or ramp up performance. Tom's Hardware isn't too hot on it, though.


Nvidia is a relative noob in the mobile platform space, with Tegra being its first real charge. It's a system on a chip, with memory, a graphics processor, a CPU (from ARM) and more on a single chip. While they reference Intel's Atom a whole bunch, it's not really a competitor-these are just for more of those mobile internet devices. No hard products use it yet, either, but here are some videos depicting what Nvidia's got in mind. Neat, but I'm not sure who's gonna buy 'em. Also, new 9M notebook graphics cards-faster than the 8M series that's in decent notebooks now, we mayyyy see 'em in new MacBook Pros in August (crosses fingers).



Via's Nano processor follows up the C7 used in stuff like the OQO UMPC and Cloudbook. It's mo' powerful, but it also uses more juice than the C7 or Intel's Atom. So, as Ars points out, it doesn't quite compete with Atom, just cause of the power differential. That's cool though, since Via's planning on using the Nano to break into powering bigger, badder notebooks that'll do HD video, and the C7 isn't going anywhere. You might see it replace the C7 in some stuff though, like HP's Mini-note, since physically it'll fit anywhere the C7 did.


That should bring ya up to speed.

Something we missed, or you still wanna know? Send any questions about chips, Pringles or anything else to, with "Giz Explains" in the subject line. [Giz Explains]