February 23, 2004 8:30 AM PST

Intel kicks off Centrino campaign

Intel wants 2004 to be the year of Centrino.

The chipmaker on Monday began running a number of new TV, print, online and outdoor ads designed to increase the adoption of its Centrino notebook chip bundle among the laptop-toting public in the United States and elsewhere, a company representative said.

Centrino has already been on the market for nearly a year and Intel has been marketing it to consumers since the summer of 2003. But so far consumers have been slow to adopt it. Instead, the majority of notebooks equipped with Centrino or Pentium M have been purchased by businesses, according to analysts and PC makers. Intel will endeavor, with its new campaign, to shift consumers toward Centrino notebooks.

The ads will tout the notebooks' ability to "unwire," or detach, from a power line and a modem or an Ethernet network cable, and to check e-mail or surf the Web using wireless networking. The Centrino bundle includes an 802.11 wireless module, along with the Pentium M processor and an Intel chipset. Centrino offered only the 802.11b standard, at first, but Intel recently upgraded it with a dual-band 802.11b/g module. The module has since been working its way into new notebook models.

Despite Centrino's stated benefits--which also include long notebook battery life--Intel may find the task of changing consumers' taste to be difficult. Many consumers' have been paying less attention to weight and battery life.

Larger notebooks, used as replacements for desktops, have become popular instead. Models such as Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion zd7000, are relatively inexpensive, but offer screens of up to 17 inches and processor speeds of up to 3.2GHz, matching many of the desktops they replace. These features increase notebooks size and weight and decrease battery life, but many buyers don't seem to mind, PC makers have said.

Still, manufacturers say that some people, often second- or third-time notebook buyers and frequent travelers, have opted for Centrino notebooks. The chip bundle has gradually increased its sales at retail in the United States. It was in 10.8 percent of notebooks sold at retail in December, Centrino's highest percentage so far, said Steve Baker, an analyst with NPD Techworld.

"Intel's advertising has always been successful in the past. I have no doubt that it will drive people to be interested in that product," Baker said. "That's not the whole story, though. (Intel has) to get the (original equipment manufacturers) on board as well, and they have to be able to create a product at the right price. If Centrino stays 20 percent or more above the average price for a notebook (at retail), it's going to be a tough sell."

Indeed, the average selling price for a Centrino system in December was $1,658, compared with an average of $1,334 for a notebook without Centrino sold in the same month, he said. Desktop-replacement notebooks often start at around $1,200. Gateway's "200" notebook with Centrino and a 14.1-inch screen starts at $1,399, and HP's Compaq Presario x1201us with Centrino and a 15.4-inch wide-angle screen, starts at the same price, before a $100 rebate.

Time may also be on Intel's side, however. Consumers will likely grow more sophisticated. Thus today's desktop-replacement notebook buyers may be looking for less weight the next time around, which could make them more likely to adopt Centrino.

Meanwhile, faster versions of the Pentium M processor will come out. While clock speed isn't the best measure of performance, higher speeds attract consumers' attention. Centrino notebooks may also drop in price over time.

The 15-second Centrino TV ads are set to begin in the United States on Monday. Print, online and outdoor advertising will follow, Intel said. The campaign will also run in Australia, Canada, China, France, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Taiwan.

 

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