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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 February 2003, 13:49 GMT
Longer life ahead for laptops
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent in San Jose

The days when you curse your laptop for running out of power before you had chance to save a vital document could soon be over.

Wireless computing on a laptop: Vismedia
Aim for laptops to connect with any wireless network
Intel is setting ambitious targets for the battery life of a laptop and hopes people will be able to use the newest machines for up to eight hours before they need to be recharged.

The targets are contained in Intel design documents that detail the novel technologies going in to the laptops due to go on sale in 2004/5.

The world's largest chip maker believes the targets can be reached by use of types of battery and by refining the power guzzling technologies used in portable computers.

Life without wires

Just as Intel produces a vision of what it thinks desktop computers should be like in 12 months time, it also produces detailed specifications for future laptops.

It has created a concept design called Newport based around its new mobile specific chip called Centrino that brings together some of the technologies that could be appearing in future machines.

Top of the list is the ability for a laptop to connect with any and every wireless network technology currently being used. This means Intel and its partners are working on ways to fit four antennas into the laptop chassis to support Bluetooth, GPRS as well as two speeds of wi-fi networks.

The company is also working on ways for a laptop to work out the different wireless networks nearby and always use the fastest one available.

An Intel-backed technology called Proset adapter switching helps the machine smoothly glide between different networks and speeds.

Net hubs

Intel and its laptop partners are also looking at ways of using sim cards, similar to those used in mobile phones, to act as a single identifier that lets people join different networks but ensures they only get one bill.

Your notebook could be shut, but not shut down
Shreekant Thakkar, Intel
Laptops look likely to become much more aware of their surroundings as well as the radio networks they can use.

Shreekant Thakkar, director of Intel's mobile platform architecture and mobile platforms group, said network nodes that act as hubs for wireless devices can easily be used as geographical markers that can pipe information about local weather, restaurants, colleagues or friends to laptop users.

Mr Thakkar said Microsoft's forthcoming Longhorn operating system, the successor to XP, will be ready to work with these location-based systems.

Intel also wants to make laptops and mobile machines more aware of other peripherals such as printers and projectors and automatically bind to them via Bluetooth to make it easy for to connect to them and use them.

This awareness will mean that laptops are always on, but said Mr Thakkar, Intel is working on ways to ensure that they do not have to be opened up to be used effectively.

Longer life laptops

Future laptops could sport a small LCD screen on their outer cover that shows people when they have e-mail messages waiting, the signal strength of local networks and remaining battery life.

"Your notebook could be shut, but not shut down," said Mr Thakkar.

Extended usage means laptops will need to last longer between recharges.

Intel and its partners are aim to produce machines by early 2005 that can run for eight hours before needing recharging.

Intel expects long life lithium polymer batteries to become standard in future laptops and is working on ways to reduce power consumption by using ambient light sensors that dim screens to save power in brightly lit areas.

Past iterations of the laptop design document have helped Intel cut the average power consumption of a laptop from 15 watts in 2002 to 13 watts in 2003.

Mr Thakkar said Intel and its partners were on course to cut this to 10 watts by 2004.

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