To mark the tenth anniversary of Intel Centrino, V3 is publishing a series of articles on the original Intel wireless laptop platform. This article is a report on Centrino published just after the 12 March launch back in 2003.
Intel last week introduced its Centrino technology aimed at extending the performance and battery life of laptops. Enterprise vendors including Toshiba, Dell, IBM, Samsung and Sony also announced new systems based on Centrino, but some are also offering wireless capability other than that specified by Intel.
The move adds to the range of mobile choices already available to firms, forcing IT departments to support drivers and disk images for yet another Intel platform.
The Centrino label covers a new processor, the Pentium-M, two 855 chipset options, and an Intel wireless LAN (WLAN) solution. A laptop must have all three to carry the Centrino brand, Intel said.
"To be compliant, [a laptop] must have Pentium-M, Intel WLAN and one of the two chipsets. You can't call it Centrino otherwise," said Simon Muchmore, a technical marketing engineer at Intel.
The reason is verification work by Intel to combat interoperability problems with wireless kit from different sources. "Intel verification is the ‘goodness' of Centrino. We're branding interoperability as much as anything," said Muchmore.
But Intel's wireless solution only offers the 802.11b standard operating at 11Mbit/s. Many vendors are offering laptops with a choice of wireless adapter, badging the system as Centrino when it has Intel's Calexico mini-PCI adapter, or as Pentium-M when it does not.
"Many customers trust Dell to meet all their needs," said Mike Petersen, Dell's senior manager for Latitude marketing in Europe.
Buyers would be able to choose the Intel solution or a Dell TrueMobile adapter at the same price, he said, adding that Dell would offer a card supporting 802.11a/b/g later in the year.
IBM is likewise offering a choice of wireless kit with its new Thinkpads. "Some customers want Cisco Aironet [adapters], as the rest of their infrastructure is already Cisco," said Adrian Horne, ThinkVantage specialist for IBM [now Lenovo] in Europe.
The Pentium-M chip at the heart of Centrino is launching at speeds of 1.6GHz, 1.5GHz, 1.4GHz and 1.3GHz, with 1.1GHz low-voltage and 900MHz ultra-low voltage versions. It is not a version of the Pentium 4, but designed from scratch to offer performance while extending battery life, Intel said.
"Thin and light laptops are the ‘sweet spot' for Centrino,' said Muchmore.
While early tests in our labs have not shown a major increase in battery life, some vendors say Centrino is a big step forwards.
"It makes a huge difference in battery life," said IBM's Horne, who claimed that the new Thinkpads could last for up to nine hours with extended battery packs. Intel said that Centrino laptops with standard batteries should run for four to five hours.
Power saving extends to a new mobile chipset, which manages up to 2GB of double data rate (DDR) memory with aggressive use of power-down when idle. Two versions are shipping; the 855GM has integrated Intel Extreme graphics functions, while the 855PM links to a separate graphics chip. Both consume about half the power of current 845 mobile chipsets.
Intel said that Centrino is backed by its Stable Image technology to help firms manage software configurations.
"We guarantee to IT managers that [their] disk image won't need to change for at least 18 months," said Muchmore.
But Centrino systems are substantially different from current systems, whereas laptops using the 845 chipset share many of the same drivers with Pentium 4 desktops.
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