Notebook makers embrace Centrino chip

Intel formally launched its much-heralded Centrino mobile technology yesterday, and top-tier notebook manufacturers have...

Intel formally launched its much-heralded Centrino mobile technology yesterday, and top-tier notebook manufacturers showcased products equipped with the new chip set, which features a five-hour battery life and built-in Wi-Fi capability.

The Centrino consists of a low-power-drain Pentium-M chip set and a PRO/Wireless mini-Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) card that handles Wi-Fi connectivity. Intel will offer four standard versions of the Pentium-M running at speeds of 1.6, 1.5, 1.4 and 1.3 GHz. Intel is also offering a low-voltage version that runs at 1.1 GHz and an ultralow-voltage chip running at 900 MHz. 

Intel claimed the Pentium-M offers a 13% to 15% improvement in performance over the earlier 2.4-GHz Pentium 4-M. The 1.6-GHz Pentium M also offers 76% longer battery life than the 2.4-GHz model. 

IBM's Centrino-powered notebook ThinkPad 40 is a 4.5-lb. machine with double the battery life of older models, 5.5 hours vs. 2.8. IBM will offer customers the option of using either Intel's built-in Wi-Fi mini-PCI card or a dual-band 802.11a and 802.11b module. Prices for the new ThinkPad 40 start at $1,999 (£1,240). 

Hewlett Packard's notebook, the Compaq Evo N620c, is equipped with Centrino technology which, HP claimed, would deliver 70% better battery life than previous models. Pricing starts at $1,799. 

Dell Computer added a Centrino-powered notebook to its Inspiron line, which targets small and medium-sized businesses. Prices for Centrino Inspiron notebooks start at $1,399. 

Other hardware companies introducing Centrino-equipped notebooks included Toshiba, which unveiled five models with prices starting at $1,999, and Sony, with a new Vaio model priced at $2,200.

IDC analyst Keith Waryas said he expected that within the next year, "practically every notebook shipped will come equipped with Centrino".

Intel has touted the Wi-Fi capabilities of its Centrino architecture - and backed this with partnerships with Wi-Fi public-access networks and operators.

But competitors pointed out that the Centrino with built-in Wi-Fi can access only mature 802.11b wireless networks that operate in the 2.4-GHz band and have a raw data rate of 11M bit/sec. The Centrino does not incorporate the Wi-Fi 802.11a or the 802.11g standard, both of which provide 54M bit/sec. data speeds (in the 5- and 2.4-GHz bands, respectively). 

Rich Redelfs, president and chief executive of Atheros Communications, a wireless Lan chip manufacturer, said that notebook manufacturers have the option of using the Pentium-M processor that is at the heart of the Centrino technology with Atheros 802.11a/b Wlan chip sets today and a 802.11g or combined 802.11a/b/g chip sets in the near future. 

Major hardware manufacturers that have signed up to use the Atheros 802.11 chip sets include HP, IBM, Toshiba and NEC.  But Intel - which has backed the Centrino launch with a $300m advertising campaign - will not allow manufacturers to slap on a "Centrino Compatible" logo unless they incorporate both the Pentium-M processor and its Wi-Fi module. 

Analysts expected Intel to incorporate all three Wi-Fi standards into the Centrino architecture eventually, and view it as the beginning of the end of outboard Wi-Fi packaged in a PC card.

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