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Intel launches Centrino mobile platform

Going through the motions

Intel's Centrino has arrived, though given the volume of co-marketing partnership press releases issued over the last few weeks, you have to wonder whether a launch is entirely necessary now.

But still, here it is: a platform comprising the Pentium M processor formerly known as Banias, Intel's 855 chipset family and its Pro/wireless 2100 mini-PCI Wi-Fi card.

Fabbed at 0.13 micron and comprising 77 million transistors, the Pentium M is a rejig of the PIII architecture, brought up to date with a 400MHz frontside bus, 1MB of on-die cache and other P4-esque refinements such as bundling micro ops for better performance, and better branch prediction than the original PIII core was capable of.

Souped up on-chip power management centred on SpeedStep that shuts down unneeded circuitry and shifts through multiple clock speeds and core voltages according to processor load.

The chip runs at 1.3 to 1.6GHz. Intel is also offering low-voltage and ultra-low voltage versions at 1.1GHz and 900MHz, respectively.

The 855 line comprises the 855PM and the 855GM, the latter with Intel's Extreme Graphics 2 built-in. Both chipsets use a power management system like the Pentium M's to prolong battery life. They support up to 2GB of 266MHz DDR memory, USB 2.0 and Intel's I/O Hub system for connecting other buses, such as 1394 and mini-PCI.

The latter connects the wireless component, the Pro/wireless 2100 802.11b card.

As EBN reports here, Intel is maintaining a strong hold on the Pentium M/855 architecture to ensure third-parties don't come out with alternatives too quickly. Various parties, including ATI, are talking to or plan to talk to Intel about licensing, but don't expect positive results any time soon. With the industry still in recession, Intel wants to exploit sales of its own chips to the full.

Hence the co-marketing deals, which presumably operate along the lines of its regular processor marketing: Intel pays a percentage of the cost of a partner's advertising, provided they display the appropriate Intel logo and, where appropriate, irritating jingle.

So how well does Centrino perform? Intel claims five hours of battery life, based on MobileMark 2002 benchmarking. PC World magazine's tests, reported here suggest operating times of six to seven hours. Its tests show impressive performance too: a 1.6GHz Pentium M-based Dell Latitude, for example, scores higher than a 2.5GHz desktop P4-based machine. In effect, the Dell delivers a 12 per cent performance advantage over the P4. Other Centrino-based machines aren't far behind.

As for pricing, the four Pentium M chips - 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 and 1.6GHz - cost $292, $377, $506 and $720, respectively, for batches of 1000 chips. The low-voltage 1.1GHz part costs $345; the 900MHz ultra-low voltage chip, $324. That includes the 855 and Pro/wireless card, so the pricing is certainly aggressive. ®

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