Vendors mix Centrino, Pentium M configurations

IDG News Service |  Hardware

Several PC vendors released new notebooks Wednesday based on Intel Corp.'s long-awaited Centrino technology. Most offered a choice between Intel's complete package of Pentium M processor and Intel Pro Wireless chip, or a combination of the Pentium M and wireless chips from other companies.

Centrino is one of the first attempts by a chip maker to sell a processor, chipset, and wireless chip in a single package, and Intel has thrown millions of marketing dollars behind the effort. Building on its long-running "Intel Inside" ad campaign, the Santa Clara, California, company will only help PC vendors market notebooks that feature the complete Centrino package. Despite that, just about every major vendor that released a notebook Friday is making another wireless chip available in conjunction with the Pentium-M processor for some models.

Customers want choices when they upgrade to new notebooks, said Margaret Franco, product marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) Some customers want the performance benefits and longer battery life afforded by the Pentium M processor, but their companies might not be ready to go wireless just yet, she said. Others want to be able to use 802.11a or 802.11g networks, and Centrino doesn't yet support those wireless standards, she said.

For companies that have already standardized on wireless products, such as chips from Cisco Systems Inc. or Atheros Communications Inc., it's easier to stick with the products they are already familiar with, said Sam Dusi, director of IBM Corp.'s PCD brand offerings.

What's more, computer vendors aren't keen on having to rely on Intel for too many of their chip needs, another analyst said.

"PC vendors don't want to be completely dependent on Intel for another piece of the platform," said Stephen Baker, director of research for NPD Techworld in Reston, Virginia. "They're also not convinced that Intel has the best solution for their customers."

Dell, Toshiba, and Gateway Inc.'s notebooks come with the Intel Pro Wireless chip as the standard wireless chip, but offer other components as an option. IBM's customers have their choice of multiple wireless vendors across a slew of different configurations, and HP's notebook won't come with the Intel Pro Wireless chip until later this year.

Since Intel made the Intel Pro Wireless chip a Mini PCI (peripheral component interconnect) module, it gave PC vendors the flexibility to include other wireless chips, said Alan Promisel, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts. With only an 802.11b chip available at this time, Intel doesn't want to force PC vendors to sell a product that didn't meet the needs of many of their customers, he said.

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