Intel builds for mobility

Intel this week will unveil Centrino, which pairs the company's first processor tailored to mobile environments together with an integrated 802.11b chip.

The technology is expected to usher in a new wave of thin-and-light notebook designs that take advantage of the reduced power consumption and increased battery life of the Pentium-M processor.

"It's a very promising solution that goes a long way towards balancing performance and battery life better than any other processor before it," said Kevin Krewell, senior editor at the Microprocessor Report in San Jose, Calif.

Intel's current processor for notebook computers, the Mobile Intel Pentium 4-M, is fairly similar to the desktop Pentium 4 processor. But the Pentium-M is a chip architecture designed exclusively for a mobile environment, said AnandChandrasekher, Intel's vice president and general manager of the mobile platforms group, at the recent Spring Intel Developer Forum in San Jose.

The Pentium-M uses some of the performance-oriented features of the Pentium 4, such as the bus technology and SSE2 (Streaming SIMD Extensions 2) instructions, but Intel modified these features to make them more "power-friendly,"Microprocessor Report's Krewell said.

Notebooks using the Centrino package will be able to run for as long as five hours while processing power-intensive software such as Adobe Systems Inc.'s Photoshop or DVD rendering apps, according to Intel.

Formerly known as Banias, the Pentium-M will be available in six clock speeds. Standard-voltage versions of the chip will debut at 1.3GHz, 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz, and 1.6GHz. A low-voltage version will be introduced at 1.1GHz, and an ultralow-voltage version at 900MHz. The processor will use a 400MHz front-side bus.

Intel had originally hoped Centrino would include Intel's dual-band wireless chip with support for both 802.11b and 802.11a networks, but the company announced in December that Centrino would initially have to be packaged with a chip from Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, constraining users to 802.11b. Support for the faster but less widely used 802.11a and 802.11g networks will follow later this year, Intel said in December.

Intel also expects the Pentium-M chip to be used in blade servers. The reduced amount of heat and power dissipated by the processor will help blade-server vendors design thinner servers, thereby increasing the density of storage their offerings can provide.

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