Centrino-based Tablet PCs in the pipeline

Tablet PCs based on the Centrino platform are hitting the market at a slower pace than notebooks, despite the announcements of...

Tablet PCs based on the Centrino platform are hitting the market at a slower pace than notebooks, despite the announcements of the Intel's Pentium M processor and wireless Lan chip set. 

The Pentium M offers longer battery life and higher performance, albeit at lower clock speeds, than the company's other mobile processors.

Centrino-based Tablet PCs are making their way onto the market, with the first devices to be based on the 900MHz ultra-low-voltage model of the Pentium M.

"Centrino matches really well with what many tablet users are looking for," said Jim O'Brien, senior analyst at IDC, pointing to the Pentium M's lower power consumption and the wireless Lan access afforded by the platform.

While those capabilities are attractive to many users, the challenge from the suppliers' point of view is that Centrino adds to the price of Tablet PCs, which is already substantially higher than many notebook computers.

One of the first PC suppliers to put out a Centrino-based Tablet PC is Panasonic. The company has added a Centrino-based Tablet PC, the Toughbook CF-18, to its Toughbook line of rugged computers.

Prices start at $3,200 (£2,025), the CF18 is available with a 900MHz Pentium M processor, 256Mbytes of DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a 40Gbyte hard disc drive and a 10.4in TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) with 1,024 pixel by 768 pixel (XGA) resolution. The CF-18's screen can swivel 180 degrees, allowing the Tablet PC to be converted from a notebook into a tablet.

Acer will unveil its TravelMate C110 Tablet PC in April. The C110 is based on the Centrino platform and includes a 900MHz Pentium M processor. The C110 includes a 10.4in TFT LCD screen, 256Mbytes of DDR memory, and a 40Gbyte hard drive. The C110 will be priced at around $2,700 (£1,709).

Motion Computing will also offer a Tablet PC based on the Centrino package with a 900MHz Pentium M processor by the middle of this year.

The 900MHz Pentium M, which is found in all three of these Tablet PCs, is the slowest of Intel's Pentium M line-up, which includes six processor models running at clock speeds up to 1.6GHz. But many Tablet PC users may be less concerned with processing power than they are with extended battery life and wireless Lan access, O'Brien said.

Most Tablet PC suppliers have yet to roll out models that use Centrino, instead sticking with existing Tablet PCs based on the Pentium III-M processor. Suppliers have been reluctant to introduce Centrino-based Tablet PCs because of the higher price of the Centrino platform and the relatively low numbers of Tablet PCs being sold so far.

"In addition, Microsoft has placed high hardware requirements on Tablet PC suppliers, he said. "I think that supliers were more comfortable doing their tablets with the processors that were already out there," O'Brien said.

However, as the year goes on, more suppliers could introduce Centrino-based Tablet PCs, especially if Intel reduces the price of the Centrino platform and Tablet PC sales pick up.

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