waiting for Santa Rosa

Anandtech has a comparison of the Yonah and Merom processors from Intel – known more popularly as Core Duo and Core Duo 2 – and concludes:

Overall, Merom may not be as big of an upgrade to Yonah as Conroe was to NetBurst, but the bottom line is that you get equal or better performance in every test without increasing cost or decreasing battery life. Owners of Core Duo laptops really have no reason to worry about upgrading for now, and waiting for the Santa Rosa platform before your next laptop upgrade seems reasonable. Those looking to purchase a new notebook on the other hand have no reason to avoid Core 2 Duo models, assuming pricing is consistent with what Intel is promising. There will be a delay of at least a few more weeks as we await availability, and testing and validation by laptop manufacturers may delay things a bit more, but within the next month or so you should be able to get a Core 2 laptop.

I bought my T42 Thinkpad with a Dothan chip (ie, Yonah’s predescessor, the Pentium M). I have no regrets; I bought the T42 in December and have used it heavily. As Anand points out, the Santa Rosa platform will really give Merom it’s full potential – primarily the counterintuitive impact that increasing the front-side bus speed will have for lengthening battery life:

With Santa Rosa, clock speeds will go up slightly but more importantly we’ll get access to a faster FSB. Unfortunately a side-effect of keeping Core 2 Duo fed with a faster FSB is that while performance may go up, battery life may go down. It’ll be interesting to see what Intel can pull off with the new platform; one of the funny things about performance and battery life is that if you can complete a task quickly enough thus returning your CPU to an idle state faster, battery life will grow even though instantaneous power consumption may be higher.

Note that the other big selling point for Santa Rosa is 802.11n wireless, which promises much improved range and bandwidth. However, the 11n standard got delayed again, so the impact on Santa Rosa’s rollout is unclear. I think we won’t really see Santa Rosa until midyear 2008, which is really fine by me.

Another reason it’s worth waiting is because of storage technology. A big technological advance is perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR), which promises higher data density (and thus, more GB for the buck). Seagate has already introduced a 200GB notebook drive using PMR technology, though it only runs at 4200 rpm. Presently, you can find notebook drives up to 160GB running at 7200 rpm, so I imagine that by the start of 2008 we should see PMR drives sized 200GB and above at 7200 rpm as standard.

But more important than PMR is the new hybrid drive technology. Hybrid drives use a flash-based disk in addition to the rotating platters as a kind of super-cache. This technology is being developed jointly by Samsung and Microsoft, and Windows Vista will be heavily optimized for hybrid drives, for both performance boost and longer battery life.

Overall, notebooks in 2008 are going to have a lot of these “incremental” seeming changes under the hood. But the net effect should be pretty dramatic gains in usability. The ultimate goal: a laptop that you can take anywhere, all day. We aren’t there yet but we will be a lot closer in 2008.

2 thoughts on “waiting for Santa Rosa”

  1. Any advice for someone looking for a laptop in the nearer term? I can delay months, but am not wild about delaying years – my laptop is rapidly approaching senescence.

  2. I think that there really is no reason to wait if you need a laptop in the near term. I thought about waiting for Yonah myself, but realized that even the couple of months of usage I’d get by buying my laptop when I did prior to Yonah’s launch was just too essential to pass up on. While to some extent it does depend on your usage model, I think that there isn’t much advantage to waiting longer. I assume you’re in the PC market, not Mac – as you can probably tell I am a Thinkpad nut and the T60 (Yonah-based successor to my T42, as cheap as $1200 at Newegg.com)) is probably the single best laptop out there. However I am also enamoured of the new Dell XPS M1210 which would be a really sweet machine. If you travel a lot, you might also want to check out Dell’s new D420 ultralight.

    Your best bet is to drop by NotebookReview.com and leave a note in the “What Notebook Should I buy?” forum. Be sure to answer all the questions from the FAQ in your post. The aggregate knowledge of the NR.com denizens will probably give you a pile of suggested machines tailored to your usage model, price range, etc based on your answers.

    The bottom line, though, is that if you are unsatisfied with your notebook, you shoudl buy one now rather than wait. New technologies will always be just around the corner. A new notebook gives you so much productivity boost – esp if your old one is a creaker – that waiting for the next best thing is actually a step backwards.

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