Intel To Sell Apple MacBook Air Chip To PC Makers

The highly miniaturized version of the Core 2 Duo made by Intel specifically for the MacBook Air could end up spurring a raft of Windows-based competitors.

Other PC makers are reportedly looking to slim down their laptops like Apple did this month with its MacBook Air.

Intel has reportedly sold a version of the miniaturized Core 2 Duo processor in Apple's recently released MacBook Air to other manufactures, which could then build Windows-based competitors to the ultrathin and light notebook.

Two PC manufacturers have already signed on to use the custom-designed chip, and products powered by the processor are expected to be released soon, CNET and tech magazine PC Advisor reported Wednesday, both quoting a source familiar with the plans.

An Intel spokesman declined to give any sales details but did note that Apple is the only hardware manufacturer that sells a laptop based on this specific Core 2 Duo processor.

"If other OEMs are interested in this 65-nanometer Core 2 Duo processor, we are welcome to talk with them," an Intel spokesman told InformationWeek.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs unveiled the Air this month at the Macworld conference in San Francisco. The thinness of the notebook was achieved in part by a miniaturized 65-nanometer Core 2 Duo processor that came from Intel's older Merom line. The processor is 60% smaller than the typical Merom chip and uses less power while delivering comparable speeds. The processor, however, is significantly slower than the latest Intel Core 2 Duo processors used in other new notebooks. Performance is not necessarily an issue with Apple as it customizes its operating system to maximize performance out of any processor it uses.

Nevertheless, the size and weight of the Air, which has a 13.3-inch display and full-size keyboard, placed the machine in a class of its own. The notebook weights 3 pounds and is three-quarters of an inch thick at the hinge, tapering to 0.16 of an inch at the opposite side.

Intel is working on smaller chips for ultramobile PCs and handheld devices, including a processor that's built using 45-nanometer process technology. But miniaturizing the Merom processor gave Intel a product that would fit Apple's slim design for the MacBook Air and deliver the necessary horsepower.

In making the Air thinner than other notebooks, Apple also left out a DVD drive, adding instead software called "remote disc" that can recognize an optical drive on a PC or Mac computer through a wireless network. Tapping into those machines, an Air user can install software from a CD or DVD.

The MacBook Air design has also caused some frustration among Mac users who want to use software from older Macs to install the sleek new laptop's operating system. The installation media that comes with other Macs can't be used to install "Leopard" on the MacBook Air, Apple said Wednesday.

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