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Farewell to Noisy Computers? Intel’s Latest Chip May Make Your Laptop Way Quieter

·Contributing Editor
Intel computer chips
Intel computer chips

BERLIN — Intel’s newest processor wants to shut your computer up.

To be more exact, the chipmaker hopes its smaller, more efficient Core M chip will allow laptop and tablet manufacturers to dispense with cooling fans and their background whir and whine.

Along the way, the Core M is supposed to upgrade speed and extend battery life — and hopefully allow Intel to make money from selling tablet processors instead of having to pay manufacturers to use them.

At a keynote at the IFA trade show here, Intel vice president and general manager Kirk Skaugen introduced the Core M as “a purpose-built processor” for the growing category of two-in-one devices that can transform into a laptop or a tablet by detaching or flipping the screen. Longer battery life, faster performance, and less noise are the three major benefits you should see as a computer buyer in the coming years.

Skaugen also noted that the Core M is “100 percent conflict-free,” keeping a commitment Intel made at the Consumer Electronics Show to ensure that the raw materials used in its chips don’t fund the long-running civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Intel presentation at CES
Intel presentation at CES

The chip draws 4.5 watts versus some 15 watts for its predecessor, and it’s about 50 percent smaller as well. At a briefing Wednesday morning here, product manager Adam King said Intel’s tests showed that the Core M added up to 1.7 hours of battery life and delivered up to 50 percent better performance compared with its last-generation chip.

(Remember: “Up to” is not a synonym for “just about.”)

King showed me a sample motherboard with a Core M processor next to one from a MacBook Air with the prior chip; it was less than half the size.

You can expect a laptop from Apple with this chip soon enough, but at IFA Intel has been talking only about Windows devices. For example, Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba will be shipping two-in-one computers based on the Core M. King said “the vast majority of them” won’t have cooling fans.

Some of these may shave the line between laptops and tablets down to one-hundredth of an inch — the difference between the thickness of an iPad Air and an even thinner “Llama Mountain” prototype tablet that I inspected Wednesday. At 1.47 pounds, it weighs almost a pound more than Apple’s tablet but at 0.28 inches thick is thinner than the iPad Air. And it runs a full desktop operating system.

But that operating system is Windows 8.1, and that’s why the PC industry can’t rely on just a better chip to capture buyers’ attention. Intel must be awaiting the release of Microsoft’s Windows 9 with great interest; if you’re reading this on a Windows 8 machine, I suspect you are, too.

Disclosure: Most of my travel expenses, along with those of several other U.S.-based tech journalists and analysts, are being covered by IFA’s organizers.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.