Cheap but speedy laptop PCs are expected to come on the market next year as low-priced mobile microprocessors are released. Chip giant Intel would launch a low-cost processor for 'basic' notebooks priced at US$1,500 or less in the first half next year, said Herb Lin, Intel's regional mobile computing marketing manager. The chip would fall into the Celeron family of processors, which offer performance close to the top-end Pentium II line, but at much lower prices. The basic laptop market was growing fast, at a 15 per cent year-on-year rate, Mr Lin said, compared with a 10 per cent rate for expensive top-line models. The large market for sub-$1,000 desktop PCs that began in the United States last year had spurred demand for cheaper notebooks. Computer vendors have responded by releasing scaled-down versions of their top-end models, lacking advanced features such as digital video disc drives, large displays and high-capacity hard drives. In Hong Kong, the volume market always went to the cheaper models, International Data Corp analyst Kitty Fok said. IDC figures show 58 per cent of SAR notebook sales were for models priced at $2,500 or lower. Chips for mobile PCs tend to be priced higher than those for desktop models. Intel's newly released 300 MHz mobile Pentium II chip costs $637 when bought in 1,000-unit quantities while a 333 MHz Pentium II for desktop PCs costs $234. Fast mobile chips - which generate a lot of heat - generally are more sophisticated in design and require complex cooling devices because they use smaller fans than desktop PCs. Higher mobile-chip prices also allows chip makers to recoup costs while they slash prices in the highly competitive desktop processor sector. The mobile computing market may be headed for a shake-up next month with the expected entry of Rise Technologies in the low-cost market. Presently, Intel's only competitor for mobile chips is Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), whose share is believed to be less than 10 per cent of the market but growing. AMD prices its chips 25 per cent below the same-speed Intel product. Integrated Device Technology makes low-cost desktop PC chips that can be used in mobiles, but it has no deals yet with multinational notebook makers. Buyers looking for bargains on high-end laptops can expect to see prices drop because Intel last week cut prices on its 266 MHz Pentium chips by 12 per cent and its 233 MHz Pentium II chips by 20 per cent. Intel's new 300 MHz Pentium II chip will be used in laptops with starting prices of $3,000. The new chips use only 1.6 volts of power, the lowest-voltage mobile processor Intel has made. Mr Lin said the chip could increase laptop battery life by 40 per cent, although some computer vendors might choose to use the extra power for other functions, such as faster computing. The new chip also features Quick Start technology, which drops the processor power to 0.4 watt when the computer is inactive, such as during pauses in use or while browsing Web pages off-line. Meanwhile, Intel also has released a 266 MHz power-efficient Pentium MMX chip targeted for use in mini-notebooks, such as Toshiba's Libretto. The future market for mini-notebooks, which weigh less than three pounds and cost less than $2,000, looked promising despite a slow start, Mr Lin said. The palm-sized computers accounted for only 5 per cent of all portable PCs sold worldwide, but were finding new markets. 'Growth has picked up this year,' Mr Lin said. 'More and more females are buying mini-notebooks because they are lighter' than full-sized laptops. Intel also said it was readying for next year's roll-out of 'Bluetooth' technology that used radio frequencies to enable communication between mobile devices within a 10-metre range. The Bluetooth standard - which is being developed by a number of industry members, including Intel - would, for example, enable people to use cell phones to activate their notebook computers. They could then load e-mail messages and read them on the phone display.