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PC makers mixed on Centrino

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Intel has hit back at claims that the wireless component of its Centrino processor lacks the performance of other wireless chips, despite caution from certain PC manufacturers.

Centrino—touted as the first processor designed specifically for mobile use—integrates the new Pentium-M processor and 855 chipset with the PRO/wireless 2100 network connection, providing OEMs with an “out-of-the-box” mobile wireless solution.

PC makers currently buy each component separately based on individual performance characteristics, but Intel claims the components use less power when integrated.

While manufacturers endorsed the performance of the Pentium-M, however, several expressed concerns over the wireless data transmission speeds compared to rival solutions from Broadcom, Cisco and 3Com.

“Some vendors will want to mix and match technologies and they’ll be free to do that,” Intel Australia general manager David Bolt told Electronics News. “They just won’t be able to brand the system as Centrino-based because we can’t do the verification for all those components.”

Because each component is manufactured by Intel, the company guarantees that Centrino-based laptops will work with any hotspot verified under the recently established Wireless Verification program. Intel has verified 100 hotspots throughout Australia on Optus, Telstra, Azure and Xone wireless networks.

While most PC makers are already demonstrating Centrino-powered prototypes, many said they had not used the device enough to comment on the performance of the wireless chip.

But at least two manufacturers—Ipex and IBM—are offering Centrino-based notebooks with the option to upgrade the 2100 wireless connection to a rival solution.

“We’re hedging our bets on that path,” Ipex sales and marketing co-ordinator Pam Fleming reveals. “While Centrino is very much Intel-focused, we will be providing options for customers to go mobile on wireless platforms from Cisco and 3Com.”

IBM also showcased “a suite of ThinkPad offerings” using the Pentium-M and wireless platforms from Cisco and Atheros.

While both the Centrino-based and mixed component ThinkPads are immediately available, most PC makers have Centrino-based products slated for release in April.

“We expect to ship 1,000 Centrino notebooks in the next 12 months with sales to outstrip those of our P4-M products by the end of the year,” ASI Solutions product manager Craig Quinn predicts.

Others were more cautious in their approach: “Sales will only outstrip existing notebooks once Centrino has proven itself. A lot of clients may not take the early adopter approach,” Fleming says.

Makers Optima were much more optimistic, having achieved a 6 MByte transfer in five minutes in early testing, while Panasonic announced that all its Toughbooks would migrate to Centrino within three weeks.

Centrino currently utilises an 802.11b capability, but will move to dual-band 802.11a/b within six months as Intel moves to 90 nm process technology. Plans for 802.11g version are also in the pipeline but Intel’s David Bolt said the company would wait until the standard has been completed before developing.

“We’ve done our own tests transmitting a 1 MByte file and have found very little difference between ours and other 802.11b technologies,” Bolt says. “What we’re trying to do now is work with industry to come up with a common set of measurements providing an accurate verification of how various technologies work together.”

Centrino also represents a move away from the clock frequency race Intel has championed in the past, with the company admitting it will need to shift consumer focus to the increased battery life Centrino provides rather than processor speed.

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