Intel takes Centrino to consumer electronics

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The main thrust of Intel’s chip push will be focused
on the consumer market this year and this week saw president Paul Otellini setting out the chipmaker’s stall in a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The company has set up a $200m venture capital fund within its Intel Capital division to invest in start-ups focused on the digital home.

Although PC players have tried before to take over the consumer electronics space, many observers believe they have a better chance this time as technologies such as wireless networking – the spearhead for Intel’s consumer push – span both sectors.

Among a series of moves planned this year to reinvent Intel as a supplier of silicon to the consumer electronics sector will be aggressive moves to take its Centrino wireless chipset into digital home devices and, less ambitiously, into consumer-oriented notebooks and PDAs.

The theme of Otellini’s presentation was applying
the benefits of Moore’s Law to the consumer electronics industry and showing “how the PC and CE industries can work together to eliminate the boundaries between devices that both compute and communicate, and products designed to entertain”, said Intel.

Last month, Intel said publicly that it was seeking customers in the CE market for the 802.11g versions of Centrino, as part of the company’s objective to reduce its dependence on its traditional PC base and become the chip platform of choice for any mobile network-enabled device.

The first consumer devices to feature Centrino should be set-top boxes, stereos, DVD players and televisions, the company says, supporting applications such as video streaming round the home.

This will be just a first step towards Intel’s far broader digital home vision, which will be based on future Centrino platforms supporting, in particular, UltraWideBand, and on multi-protocol iterations of Centrino and the XScale cellphone processors, plus the results of its key R&D project, the adaptive silicon radio.

The first step will be to gain market share for
Centrino in the consumer PC sector and Intel plans to push its wireless chipset into this market in earnest in 2004 with new advertising campaigns and new products.

The company began some consumer-oriented marketing last autumn, having relied on OEMs targeting the business user base for the first six months of its wireless chip bundle’s life. But its consumer efforts were low key and hampered by its failure to ship a version supporting 802.11g, the most popular Wi-Fi variant for home and SoHo users. It will put this right this quarter with a Centrino package that includes Dothan, the upcoming high speed version of the Pentium M processor for mobile PCs, and a dual band b/g radio module.

Further into 2004, Centrino may also feature
the lower cost Celeron processor, which will
reduce the cost of ultralight wireless notebooks
to come within home users’ reach.

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