Fast chip snapped up by makers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 March, 1994, 12:00am

TWO weeks ago, United States semiconductor giant Intel surprised the industry by launching two new, blisteringly fast versions of its popular 486 microprocessor.

With barely enough time having passed to produce the marketing material, Compaq, Texas Instruments and Toshiba have all announced new high-end notebook systems in Hong Kong, based on the 75-MHz version of these so-called 486 DX4 processors.

To be fair, in Hong Kong, at least, the marketing material is all that exists. None of the firms that announced the products actually has stock.

AST has played its launch more conservatively. A spokesman said last week that DX4 machines would be on sale soon, but the firm was waiting to see that stock was in place first.

As is often the case at the notebook end of the market, there is not much that distinguishes one product from another. Certainly, price will not - they are all in the $40,000 to $48,000 range, the upper stratosphere of the notebook market (but one that accounts for a reasonable number of unit sales in Hong Kong, regardless).

Toshiba's new system, called the T4800CT, comes with various multimedia features that take advantage of the processor's speed. These include built-in audio, local bus video and a graphics' accelerator.

In catering to the heavy storage demands of multimedia applications, Toshiba included a 500-MB disk drive for the first time. The 500MB is expected to become a standard notebook offering across the industry in the next few years.

The new Toshiba also comes with a 9.5-inch active matrix screen, which is becoming more common.

Texas Instruments' new machine comes similarly equipped with multimedia features, and has an option for a 455-MB hard-disk drive. Various choices allow for either 8.5-inch or 9.5-inch active matrix colour screens.

Compaq's new notebook systems are additions to its LTE Elite range, which are also based on the 75-MHz version of the DX4 processor. These new machines weigh 3.11 kilograms and come with hard drives, ranging in size from 170 MB to 510 MB.

Each vendor's machine comes standard with an acceptable eight MB of RAM, with each expandable to 24 MB.

Vendors contacted last week said although the new processors operated at a faster clock speed, they were the same 3.3-volt devices as the previous high-end DX2 systems and therefore were not expected to experience heat problems.

It is expected each vendor will launch even more powerful systems based on the 100-MHz version of the DX4 later in the year.

The vendors are also expected to launch notebooks that are based on the low-voltage versions of Intel's flagship microprocessor, the Pentium.