Intel kicks off Centrino push, launches Pentium M

Intel Wednesday officially launched its Centrino package, which includes the latest addition to the company's mobile processor lineup alongside a companion chipset and a wireless LAN chip.

Centrino is based around the Pentium M processor, formerly known by its code-name Banias, which incorporates a chip architecture that is different from that used with Intel's other mobile processors, such as the Pentium 4-M. The result is a chip that offers greater performance and longer battery life than the Pentium 4-M.

Intel Wednesday introduced four standard versions of the Pentium M processor running at speeds of 1.6GHz, 1.5GHz, 1.4GHz, and 1.3GHz, priced at US$720, $506, $377 and $292, respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities. The company is also offering a low-voltage version that runs at 1.1GHz for $345 and an ultra-low-voltage chip running at 900MHz priced at $324.

Intel set Centrino loose with a series of splashy launch events in cities including Tokyo, London, New York and Sydney. Intel Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett took to the stage in New York, accompanied by the BoDeans' song "Closer to Free" and video montages of cheerful people in exotic locales wielding wireless laptops.

"I think this is really, after 20 years of hyping it, the most tangible evidence of the convergence of computing and communications," Barrett said.

While many of the technologies comprising the Centrino bundle have been around for years, what's been lacking is a "seamless" package for wireless connectivity, he said.

"I think people are really ready to use this technology," he said.

The Pentium M offers higher performance than the Pentium 4-M, according to Intel, which said the 1.6GHz Pentium M offers a 13 percent to 15 percent improvement in performance over the 2.4GHz Pentium 4-M. The 1.6GHz Pentium M also offers 76 percent longer battery life than the 2.4GHz Pentium 4-M, according to Intel.

The lower clock speeds, however, may confuse end users who have become accustomed to Intel's emphasis on the connection between higher clock speeds and greater performance.

In response to these concerns, Intel Australia general manager David Bolt said while the company would continue to herald the importance of a processor’s clock frequency, the measurement was a relatively “simple” one, especially in the mobility market. He pointed out the relevance of other factors, such as extended battery life, reliablity and breakthrough performance in mobile computing.

Intel is pushing the Pentium M and Pentium 4-M processors to different market segments, Bolt said.

Kelly Wu, country manager of Intel Taiwan, said the Pentium M and Centrino are targeted at mobile users who want wireless LAN access and longer battery life. The Pentium 4-M, on the other hand, is intended for what Intel calls the portability market, essentially users who carry their notebooks from one office to another, she said.

"Our focus is not only on megahertz," said Wu. "Of course megahertz is important but we are also considering the usage model."

In addition to the Pentium M processor, Centrino includes an Intel 855 chipset, which supports a 400MHz front-side bus, and the Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 wireless LAN chip. The 855GM chipset also includes integrated graphics based on Intel's Extreme Graphics 2 technology.

At the Australian Centrino launch, almost a dozen PC vendors, with the notable exception of HP, turned out to showcase notebooks and Tablet PC systems featuring the new technology. These included Optima, IPEX, Fujitsu and ASI Solutions. Most models were fresh off overseas production lines and will ship next month.

Intel expects to see Centrino account for 30 percent of all mobile processors by the end of this year, Wu said, adding that Centrino would likely account for 50 percent of mobile sales for high-end laptops.

- ARN's Georgina Swan contributed to this report.

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