Intel's power play
The new lineup of Yonah chips and Viiv computers reflects a major shift in the world of PCs.
By Peter H Lewis, FORTUNE senior editor

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - At the same time Apple is shifting to Intel microprocessors, Intel is planning a new generation of chips and technologies designed to make notebook computers smaller and less power hungry, and home computers that will emphasize music, video, games and photos.

In portable PCs, Intel plans to phase out the venerable Pentium line of chips, eventually replacing them with smaller, faster and more efficient Yonah dual-core chips capable of handling many different operations at once.

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Intel's new plan: Inside everything

Intel says Yonah-based portables will have longer battery life, and some models will be smaller and lighter than anything on the market today. We'll see.

Scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2006, Intel Viiv (rhymes with five) technology-based home entertainment PCs will feature Yonah dual-core processors, advanced graphics and 7.1-channel surround sound capability, along with new shapes and sizes designed to fit in with home theater systems.

The PCs will be made and sold by the usual suspects, but we'll also be watching to see if Apple's new partnership with Intel bears fruit.

According to Intel, the Viiv PCs will feature instant on-off, quiet operation, DVR (digital video recording) with an optional TV tuner card, integrated network support for a variety of media devices, and easy remote-control operation.

They're expected to work seamlessly with online content services for downloading video and music, moving that content easily to other PCs, TVs, portable devices and stereo systems around the house, and so on.

The base operating system will be Windows Media Center Edition, which is slated to fold into Windows Vista by the end of the year. Intel is expected to give more details on Viiv this week at the Consumer Electronics Show.

To buy or not to buy?

If you're shopping for a new Windows-based laptop, it's smart to wait for more Yonah details coming later this week. If you travel a lot, the prospect of smaller, lighter and longer-lasting laptops has great allure and may be worth postponing a purchase.

The appeal of Viiv home entertainment PCs is less certain. Intel and Microsoft have been touting the wonderfulness of integrating a Windows Media Center PC into the living room for years now, but only the most daring consumers have been willing to tackle the technical (and, often, esthetic) challenges.

If you're waiting for the day when junior can play games on the home PC while you're simultaneously pulling a video from the same PC onto your big-screen TV and your spouse is piping digital music from the PC to the stereo system in the den, the day may be coming sooner than you think.

Intel's microprocessor lineup has been fairly boring for the past year, but new chips for desktop, laptop and server system are on the menu for the second half of 2006.

Coupled with the arrival of Windows Vista, the new Intel-based PCs represent the first big shift in PCs in quite some time.

The bottom line

Longtime technology users have accepted the fact that newer, better and cheaper computers always appear just after they buy a new PC. If you really need a new desktop computer right now, go ahead and buy one and brace for the usual case of buyer's remorse six months from now.

But the changes in microprocessor architecture and Viiv technology are more than incremental advances, and waiting for more information is the prudent course of inaction. Top of page

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