The Notebooks of Yore - Portable Past Meets Future


Rise of the Machine

Rise of the Machine

Looking back now, it's really hard to see such a colored past with all the different evolutions in notebook design. Even in 1998, notebooks were still running on a multitude of different platforms, using different processors and still coming in different designs. By then, most notebooks had a standardized set of features: LCD panel, battery, keyboard, hard disk drives and optical drives that are found in most modern devices.

USB ports too by then had crept into the notebook world; these were familiar but not frequently used sights alongside parallel ports (which were pretty common and needed for printing). PCMCIA cards, the predecessor of today's ExpressCard technology, were also commonly found on notebooks.

So too, were the 1.4mb 3.5-inch floppy disk drives that were a required component for any computer of that time, though they soon become obsolete with the advent of other storage mediums. In time, Wi-Fi (wireless networking) would make its way to notebooks, though not till 1999 when Apple's iBook G3 came and integrated wireless networking started catching on.

Processor technology at that period too was a mixed bag of tricks: the two main players at that time were Intel and AMD, though Cyrix and PowerPC (used by Apple) were also found on notebooks. While Cyrix soon bit the dust, Apple continued onwards with the PowerPC CPU for its notebooks till mid 2005, where they announced that their products would now use Intel chips, making the PowerPC based notebooks a relic of the past.

Intel and AMD continued to compete with each other, each coming up with mobile versions of their current processors and platforms. Competition took on a whole new level in 2003, when Intel introduced its Centrino platform to the masses. AMD promptly followed suit, but with minimal publicity, lack of a marketing name for their platform and most importantly its hardware couldn't keep up with its competition, these only led to Intel dominating the notebook market with its Centrino platform.

Or so it was thought.

It turned out that the success of the Intel Centrino platform was due to Intel cheating somewhat with its financial incentives as found by the Japanese Fair Trade Commission. The Commission ruled that Intel's incentives were illegal and anti-competitive as they encouraged their customers (notebook vendors) to not buy AMD's chips through the use of rebates if manufacturers went exclusively Intel.

Intel decided not to appeal the matter, and subsequently followed the Commisssion's recommendations of the matter. However, the damage was done and AMD was quick to surge in the next quarter with a series of design wins. Even with these design wins, AMD wasn't making much headway with the huge Centrino marketing spree by Intel and that they did have a better overall offering. The battle however, was far from over.

Following their second generation of the Centrino platform in 2005, the Sonoma, Intel launched the Napa platform in 2006 which supported the newer Core 2 Duo processors. AMD also took 2006 to launch their Kite platform which used their Sempiron single core, Turion 64 single core and Turion 64 X2 range of processors. With the battle raging on, Intel went on in 2007 to launch their fourth generation of the Centrino platform, the Santa Rosa platform, which introduced more power-saving features to their notebooks. AMD stuck gamely to their Kite platform, but launched a refreshed Kite platform instead which sported some improvements over the Intel Santa Rosa platform like faster RAM clock speeds of 800MHz and HDMI support. Despite all of these improvements and overhaul to the platforms, AMD could only garner a positive spot in the low-cost range of notebooks because of their performance standings among others - which was also similarly mirrored in the desktop side of things too.

In 2008, the competition got hotter yet with Intel rebranding their fifth generation Centrino platform, Montevina and calling it Centrino 2 instead. Centrino 2 offered even more power saving features and WiMax support. AMD too had an answer with their new Puma platform which too featured power saving measures, speedier processors and offering much better platform integration with their ATI Mobility Radeon graphics. The Puma launch is possibly AMD's strongest notebook platform launch yet and offers better multimedia capabilities than Intel. Currently, in terms of technology and features, it's still a stalemate as to which has a better notebook platform, but it is still clearly Intel's turf when it comes to just raw performance, while on the other end of the scale, AMD has a fair bit of design wins. The age-old cat and mice game continues...