Intel's CULV: New Name for Old Chips

core2duo_logo_largeHave you heard about the newly announced computers with the mysterious and non-alluring CULV acronym yet? If you haven’t, get ready for a big dose of them, because they’re about to pop out of the woodwork. They’re exciting! They’re stupendous! That’s what Intel (s INTC) would have you believe anyway, since it created the CULV moniker, which is the sexy way of saying “Consumer Ultra Low Voltage.” Here’s the non-sexy and actually descriptive definition I like to use: They’re a¬†cheaper, lower-powered device sitting somewhere between the netbooks and traditional notebooks that are currently available. Due to the smaller chip size and lower power requirements, you’ll see CULV notebooks that are smaller, lighter and thinner, but you’ll sacrifice some relative processing power. Acronyms are nice, but clearly it causes some folks to think that CULV notebooks are a whole, new device class, which only serves to confuse consumers.

While marketing gurus would have you think these Intel CULV processors are newfangled, cutting-edge technologies, I’ll spell out the reality. Currently available notebooks with the CULV platform are running a modified Intel Pentium, a Core 2 Solo or a Core 2 Duo, which have been around for three years. I have little doubt that the new CULV chips have some advanced technologies (you can read about them in this Intel PDF), but for all intents and purposes, Intel is essentially creating a lower-power version of the old chips, newly christening them with four letters and pairing them with the new GS-40 chipset.

You’ll find notebooks from MSI, Acer and others that use CULV chips like Intel’s SU9400 or SU3500, each with a 1.4GHz clock speed, 3MB of L2 cache, and an 800 MHz front-side bus to move data around. The difference is in the power requirements: The TDP rating for the SU9400 is 10 Watts, while the SU3500 uses roughly half of that.

So why the new acronym for a rework of old architecture? As they say, money makes the world go round, and the lowly Atom chips that power netbooks that are a tad smaller than the CULV devices only pull in between $29 and $45 per chip for Intel. On the other hand, the two Core 2 CULV chips sell for $262 each. I’d take an educated guess that the average netbook price is around $350 or $400, while the CULV devices are in the $600 to $700 range so far, making for a $250 to $300¬†difference for consumers. It looks like Intel’s CULV chips could grab most of that premium, fancy new name or not.

For years, the race was for faster clock-speed. But without any major advances in battery technology, the new race is all about power efficiency. After all, the best mobile CPU in the world is useless if it eats through a battery when there’s nary an electrical outlet in sight. Too bad the entry for this race is the same as before — well, other than Intel scratching out the name on the entry form and replacing it with CULV.