Ten years ago, Intel launched its Centrino platform, technology that is credited with driving the widespread adoption of Wi-Fi and also laying the groundwork for the rise of the laptop to gradually eclipse desktop PCs in the workplace.
Laptops have been around for decades now, but Centrino marked a turning point in their development by combining a specially designed processor and mobile chipset with Intel's own wireless networking adapter, all optimised to work together as a complete platform.
While Intel had made and sold mobile processors before, the Pentium M (codenamed Banias prior to its launch) was the first to be designed almost from the ground up as a laptop chip, rather than being simply a low-power variant of an existing desktop processor such as the contemporary Pentium 4.
But the key part of the platform was Intel's own Pro Wireless 2100B Wi-Fi adapter (codenamed Calexico). This was a controversial development at the time, as Intel only allowed laptop vendors to use the Centrino brand if their system had Intel components across the board, with Wi-Fi, processor and chipset, a strategy it has continued to this day with vPro.
At the time, wireless networks based on the 802.11 technical standards were still relatively immature, and many early adopters discovered that kit from one vendor would not necessarily communicate with products from a different vendor.
Consequently, Intel's move created a standard that the industry could coalesce around, so that if a wireless access point was certified to work with Intel's Centrino adapter, buyers could have the confidence to deploy that on their network.
Nevertheless, many enterprise firms had already chosen to standardise on wireless infrastructure from vendors such as Cisco, and instead opted for laptops with matching adapters. Fortunately, Intel implemented the wireless adapter in Centrino as a Mini PCI card, which allowed a third party card to be fitted instead.
Intel's first Wi-Fi adapter also provided support just for 802.11b, while some other vendors were already offering early support for the 802.11g standard, which promised faster data rates.
Centrino laptops soon proved a hit with corporate buyers and consumers alike, thanks to their longer battery life and improved performance over the previous generation of laptop technology.
Ironically, the Pentium M processor in Centrino came out of Intel's need to respond to Transmeta, a firm that suddenly entered the market a few years earlier with a processor specifically designed around low power consumption, but which ultimately failed to gain much market traction due to low performance.
Since then, Wi-Fi technology has matured, making it more convenient to use laptops at home and in the office, and it has thus spread hand in hand with laptops themselves, with portable PCs eventually overtaking desktop systems deployed in the workplace.
Today, tablets are starting to muscle into the workplace, displacing laptops as they displaced desktops before them.
But it is worth recalling that this is all possible today because someone forced the IT industry to get serious about wireless interoperability a decade ago, and that company was Intel.
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