Chips to go with Intel
Intelís new mobile solution looks likely to shake up the notebook market and provide a boost to wireless networking.
Centrino is not just a processor and comprises three main elements — an Intel Pentium M processor, the Intel 855 chipset family and the Intel Pro/wireless 2100 network connection. The company said that all components were optimised and tested together with mobility in mind.
The new Pentium M processor was designed from the ground up, according to Intel executives. Features include Micro-Ops Fusion, which combines two micro-operations into one, enabling it to function faster and at a lower power, and Advanced Branch prediction, a new implementation technique to help reduce overall latency in the system. The processor is manufactured using Intel's 0.13 micron process. It includes a 400MHz power-optimised system bus and a 1MB low-power L2 cache (which turns off parts of the high-speed memory when not needed). It also supports Enhanced SpeedStep technology with multiple voltage and frequency operating points.
The 855 chipset family includes two new chipsets developed for the mobile market — the 855PM, supporting discrete graphics, and the 855GM with integrated Intel Extreme Graphics 2. Both chipsets support up to 2GB of DD266 memory along with USB 2.0.
The Intel Pro/wireless 2100 network connection has been designed to connect to 802.11b access points. It also supports wireless LAN (local area network) security features such as 802.11x and virtual private network technologies. It will be software upgradeable to support WPA (Wi-Fi protected access).
Several different clock speeds are available — 1.3GHz, 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz and 1.6GHz. A low voltage 1.1GHz processor is available along with an ultra-low voltage 900MHz model. Intel sees the latter two as ideal models for tablet PC-type form factors. The company says that machines based on Centrino will be available immediately and estimates that prices will start at around US$1,399 (€1,269).
The product is something of a smart move for Intel with an element of calculated risk. With PC sales still down worldwide, the notebook market is the only segment growing at the moment. Although it already has a fair slice of this market, Centrino is no doubt launching with Intel hoping that it's destined to become ubiquitous. The product may well spell trouble for Transmeta. A relative newcomer to the processor market, the company specialises in low-power chips for notebooks, but has enjoyed something of a slow start. Intel now is homing in on its patch.
The wireless element of Centrino has attracted a lot of attention. Although wireless networking is a growing phenomenon, especially in the US, it's by no means pervasive. Intel is obviously hoping that the next few years will see huge growth in the number of commercial and private Wi-Fi networks on offer.
It's no surprise that Intel also announced recently that it had invested in four companies involved in Wi-Fi technology since the beginning of the year. Given the nature of the new product, Intel is also starting a big push in promoting wireless internet access. As part of the launch the company has been working with wireless network providers to accelerate development and increase awareness. Intel has also developed a wireless verification program, which includes testing of Centrino products with various access points and software combinations to ensure compatibility. It hopes to have verified more than 10,000 hotspots by the end of the year. As part of the program it has introduced a co-branding initiative that it hopes will enable mobile internet users to easily identify hotspots through the Centrino logo.
By Dick O'Brien