February 6, 2003 4:53 PM PST

Intel sets Banias release for March 12

Intel will release Banias, a new energy-efficient notebook chip, on March 12, and open a new era in the company's laptop business.

Company executives pinpointed the date of the release during a press presentation by Connexion, a new company from Boeing that will provide in-flight Internet service. Earlier, Intel said only that Banias would come out in March.

Banias, which will be sold under the Pentium-M name, differs substantially from its predecessors, both from a technological perspective and in terms of how it will be marketed. Earlier Intel notebook chips were essentially desktop chips enhanced for notebook use. They consumed less power than their desktop counterparts. Laptops containing them, however, could still only run two to four hours on a battery charge.

Pentium-M, by contrast, was designed specifically to fit into notebooks. Subsections of the chip go into sleep mode when not in use to conserve energy. Some Pentium-M notebooks will go as long as six hours without a battery charge.

The chip will also be heavily marketed with a module for Wi-Fi networking from Intel. The combination of the Pentium-M, a chipset, and the Wi-Fi module, will in fact, be sold under its own brand name: Centrino. To date, Intel has not marketed bundles of chips but only microprocessors themselves.

Until just a few years ago, though, Intel largely sold only microprocessors. But in 1999, the chipmaker began snapping up communications companies. By bundling its Wi-Fi modules with its microprocessors, the company will effectively be able to start to build its own customer base in this market.

Right now, Intel does not sell its own Wi-Fi modules or chips. The market is dominated by Wi-Fi specialists such as Atheros, which sells chips to Toshiba and IBM. Whether Intel can snag these customers away is currently a major debate among semiconductor analysts.

For computer makers, part of the appeal of buying the entire Centrino bundle from Intel will come in the testing Intel has done. The company has extensively tested the Pentium-M with its own Wi-Fi products, said Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's Israel design center, where the Pentium-M was designed. Thousands of hours were spent ensuring compatibility between the Pentium-M and the Wi-Fi module, and all of the silicon with existing wireless services, he said.

"We have developed (test and verification) chips whose only aim in life was to torture the rest of the system," Eden said.

Pentium-M will become the predominant notebook chip for the company by the end of the year, various Intel execs have said. Pentium 4 chips for notebooks will still come out, but likely appear only in the consumer market, and then in the cheaper models.

The company is expected to spend $300 million to market Centrino.

Three versions of the Pentium-M will come out in March. The standard Pentium-M will run at 1.3GHz to 1.6GHz, while a low-power version will run at 1.1GHz. Meanwhile, a version that consumes even less power will run at 900MHz.

Competitors are also gearing up for new low-power notebook chips, but those will come later in the year. Transmeta's Astro will come out in the second half, while the Athlon 64 from Advanced Micro Devices will appear in September.

 

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