The upcoming Yonah processor is needed to balance the competing demands of performance and mobility in handheld PCs, an Intel executive said Wednesday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

Although Sean Maloney did not name the device he held in his hand during a keynote presentation, its dimensions appeared to be similar to a handheld built on Microsoft's Origami project.

On Wednesday, Samsung Electronics at the Cebit trade show in Germany showed the Q1, built on the Origami concept, and falling somewhere between a tablet PC and a PDA (personal digital assistant) in size and ability.

Energy-conserving chips

Ultra-mobile PCs need what Yonah will offer, said Maloney, Intel executive vice president and general manager of its mobility group. Yonah is the dual core version of the Pentium M. It offers better power efficiency than a conventional dual-core processor because it uses a shared cache of memory, he said. That allows both cores to access data without connecting to the frontside bus, a step that demands time and power. That strategy also allows Yonah to save energy by switching off "micro logic areas" of the cache while they are not being used.

Intel designers also use this approach for their Merom processor, scheduled for release in notebooks computers sold in the second half of 2006.

Intel spokesman Robert Manetta could not immediately identify the computer that Maloney held. But he did note that the term 'Origami' refers to Microsoft's software environment, not the actual hardware.

Flash is the answer

Regardless of its name, a successful ultra-mobile PC will need flash memory, Maloney said.

"We're very interested in nonvolatile memory," he said. A computer with nonvolatile cache memory will boot up much faster than conventional machines because it doesn't have to fetch information from a hard drive. That is one reason that handheld computers boot up so much faster than laptops.

This launch of a new computer category is not merely an effort to find a new market niche for selling products, he said. Rather, an ultra-mobile PC offers a unique ability to adopt to new standards of data compression.

Standards upgrade

Engineers often design improved versions of codecs, which are technologies designed to compress and decompress any sort of data, from music to pictures. Laptop and desktop PCs are attached to the internet, allowing users to easily download these new standards. But more portable electronics such as digital cameras are usually stuck with their original standards. The ultra-mobile PC could fix this problem by providing a bridge between web-enabled and portable electronic devices.

Of course, Origami is not the only ultra-mobile PC in the market.

Motion Computing says it beat Microsoft to the punch by nearly a year when it launched the LS800 ultra-mobile tablet PC in July 2005. That product is the size of a paperback book; one inch thick and 2.2 pounds heavy. Users operate it with pen and voice-input options.

Whoever was first to market, the LS800 shares some basic details with Origami - it, too, runs Windows XP operating system on an Intel Centrino chip. Users of the $1,699 device include customer service workers at retail stores, truck drivers on the road, and doctors visiting their patients.