Intel took the lid off its next-generation of mobile processors, the Mobile Pentium 4, at Comdex this week. The chip should be out at the end of the first quarter next year, running, for high-end users, at 1.7GHz.

Mobile Pentium III chips will top-out at around 1.3GHz. One sideline improvement is that the Mobile P4 chipset, the 845, will support DDR (double data rate) RAM. Intel's P4 will support a 400MHz front side bus across the range, which seems to allow for future developments in SDRAM technology — that is, beyond 266MHz DDR RAM.

Intel refused to talk about what speeds the Mobile P4 would achieve on release, but according to an industry-only Intel roadmap seen by PC Advisor the spread is 1.7GHz down to 1.4GHz for mainstream consumer use.

But why notebooks need this kind of power is a question so few will address. Intel sidestepped the issue when asked. We quizzed Intel's Gregory Myers at Comdex on this point, who then spoke about how important wireless connectivity is. In Intel's promotion material for the latest Mobile PIII, one of the supposed productivity benefits listed is wireless, but the subjects are only connected by the fact that you can find them both in some notebooks.

Unless people are using extremely processor-intensive software such as digital video editing, or attempting to crack government ciphers, there appears to be no current requirement for this speed increase apart from fiscal necessity.

On show at Comdex was only a working prototype of the Mobile P4 and 845 mobile chipset (pictured is a tablet design prototype), in effect a hardware 'beta', but it seems Intel is confident it will hit deadline and speed targets — the prototype was running at 1.6GHz.

But why people should need this pace in a notebook when by Q2 2002 they will have available to them 2.2-2.4GHz units in desktops, the 'traditional' place where high-power applications are run, is unclear.

Also, higher processor numbers means more power consumption. Even Intel's more advanced power management system Enhanced Speedstep, which is still not as flexible as AMD's PowerNow technology, is not going to counter such whopping speed gains, and it's long battery life, not high processor speed, which is the current holy grail of notebook manufacture.