June 2, 2003 8:51 AM PDT

Intel gives Centrino a boost

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Intel is polishing up its array of Centrino wares for notebooks.

As expected, the chipmaker on Monday launched three new Pentium M processors running at higher clock speeds and cut prices on existing versions of the chip.

The Pentium M, introduced in March, is the cornerstone of Intel's Centrino family, which is designed to help PC manufacturers create notebooks that tie into wireless networks. The Centrino line also includes the Intel 855 chipset, which supports the processor and routes data inside a notebook, along with Intel's Pro Wireless 2100 802.11b module, which is responsible for the wireless network connection.

The company is working to build momentum for the relatively new Centrino technology by launching faster Pentium Ms and by adding new software as well, during what will prove to be a busy month for the chipmaker's notebook product line.

The higher clock speeds include a new 1.7GHz Pentium M. The chipmaker had been selling Pentium M chips at speeds of up to 1.6GHz. Intel also launched new low-voltage and ultra-low-voltage Pentium M chips that run at 1.2GHz and 1GHz, respectively. Those two versions of the chip, which consume less power than a standard Pentium M for use in smaller notebooks, has been available at 1GHz and 900MHz.

The Centrino family also ships with a bundle of software that includes applications designed to assist in locating and connecting to wireless networks. Intel promised on Monday to issue an upgrade to one element of that software, its Intel Pro Network Connection application, later this month. The new version of the application will support Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), which provides security for data sent via wireless networks.

While the Pentium M and other Centrino products are still very new, a number of PC makers have adopted them so far, producing a variety of notebooks. By Intel's count, 58 notebooks that use some combination of the chips are available now. The total should increase to 125 by the end of the year, the company said. Dell Computer, for one, will offer the 1.7GHz Pentium M across its Latitude D family of notebooks, according to its Web site.

Motion Computing, which manufactures tablet PCs based on Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software, said on Monday that it will offer a version of its M1300 tablet PC that incorporates the 1GHz ultra-low-voltage Pentium M. The new tablet will start at $2,099, a Motion Computing representative said.

But despite early successes, the Centrino family has hit at least one snag. Last week, Intel acknowledged a software conflict that causes problems with some Centrino notebooks when attempting to activate VPN (virtual private network) software to establish a secure network connection. The chipmaker has issued a set of recommendations to manufacturers to avoid problems by removing or disabling the problem-causing feature. But it has not said whether it plans a software update that will eliminate the problem.

Price check
Intel set the price of the new 1.7GHz Pentium M at $637, making it the company's new flagship mobile processor. Meanwhile, the chipmaker lists the 1.2GHz low-voltage Pentium M at $284, while the 1GHz ultra-low-voltage chip lists at $262.

Making room for the new chips, Intel dropped list prices on its existing Pentium Ms. The 1.6GHz Pentium M fell from $637 to $423, a 34 percent reduction. The 1.5GHz Pentium M also went down a notch, sliding 31 percent, from $423 to $294. Intel also bumped the 1.4GHz Pentium M down by 18 percent, from $294 to $241. Meanwhile, Intel also dropped prices on Centrino bundles, which include the Pentium M, chipset and wireless module, by between 14 percent and 30 percent.

June will be a busy month for Intel's mobile product line. With the Pentium M working its way into the market, Intel intends to refresh its Pentium 4-M processor for notebooks.

Intel is expected to reinvigorate the Pentium 4-M by launching a different version of the chip that is more geared toward consumers. The new chip is expected to offer higher clock speeds and lower prices than do existing Pentium 4-M chips.

 

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