Vendors mix Centrino, Pentium M configurations

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.

Most vendors are looking to improve their existing thin-and-light notebooks -- products that weigh around 5 pounds to 6 pounds -- with the new technology as opposed to building new, aggressive designs, Baker said. For now, Centrino and the Pentium M are designed mostly for corporate users, but consumers will eventually be part of the marketing plan for these notebooks, he said.

Beyond the wireless capability, longer battery life and integrated support for USB (Universal Serial Bus) 2.0 ports are two of the major advances of the Centrino package, Promisel said. Just about every vendor is promising longer battery life with their new Centrino and Pentium M notebooks, and many are including multiple batteries to extend that life even further.

Here is a listing of specific information on each company's new notebooks:

-- Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. released five Centrino notebooks. Two models in the Satellite Pro series, the M10 and M15, are targeted at consumers who want multimedia features along with performance and battery life that appeals to professional users, said Craig Marking, senior product marketing manager for Toshiba. The Satellite Pro models are the heaviest of Toshiba's new models, at 6.8 pounds (3.1 kilograms), and come with the 1.4GHz version of the Pentium M and the Intel Pro Wireless chip. A base configuration of both models includes a 15-inch display, a 40G-byte hard drive, 512M bytes of DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), an Nvidia Corp. GeForce4 420 Go graphics card with 32M bytes of video memory, and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive. The M15 comes with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP Home Edition for US$1,999, and the M10 features Windows XP Professional Edition for $2,079.

The slightly lighter Tecra series also comes in two models. The Tecras are designed for mobile users in a campus environment, either at a university or a large company, where users can wander around a large area while remaining connected to a wireless network using the Intel Pro Wireless chip, Marking said. The Tecra S1 weighs 6.1 pounds in its base configuration, and comes with a 1.4GHz Pentium M processor, a 15-inch display, a 30G-byte hard drive, 256M bytes of DDR memory, a Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics card with 32M bytes of video memory from ATI Technologies Inc., and a DVD-ROM drive, and is priced at $1,979. The Tecra M1 weighs 5.7 pounds, and comes with the 1.4GHz Pentium M, a 14.1-inch display, a 40G-byte hard drive, 256M bytes of DDR memory, a XP4m32 graphics controller with 32M bytes of video memory from Trident Microsystems Inc., and a DVD-ROM drive, for $2,154.

Toshiba's final Centrino notebook is the Portege R100, the thinnest and lightest at 2.3 pounds. This notebook doesn't have the same performance capabilities as Toshiba's other Centrino notebooks and is designed mainly to handle basic office productivity applications such as e-mail and Internet access in the smallest package possible, Marking said. The R100 comes with what Intel calls its "ultra-low voltage" 900MHz Pentium M processor, the Intel Pro Wireless chip, a 12.1-inch display, a 20G-byte hard drive, 256M bytes of SDRAM, and a XP4 graphics card with 32M bytes of video memory from Trident for $2,199.

-- IBM is making the Centrino technology available in three different Thinkpad models, the T40 series, the X31 series, and the R40 series. The T40 models are revamped versions of the T30 line, which is being phased out but will continue to be available for certain customers for about a year, said Sam Dusi, director of PCD brand offerings at IBM. Internally, IBM refers to the T40 as the "five and five" notebook, meaning it offers over five hours of battery life in a design that weighs less than five pounds, he said.

A midrange configuration of the T40 includes a 1.5GHz Pentium M processor, a 14.1-inch display, a 40G-byte hard drive, 256M bytes of memory, the Intel Pro Wireless chip, and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive for $2,399. A workstation version of the T40 will also be launched under the T40p model name, with a typical configuration priced at $3,499 consisting of a 1.6GHz Pentium M, a 14.1-inch display, a 40G-byte hard drive, 512M bytes of memory, an 802.11a/b wireless chip from Atheros along with Bluetooth wireless capability, and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive.

The X31 is an ultraportable notebook that weighs 3.6 pounds in a standard configuration without an additional battery. A typical configuration of the X31 features a 1.4GHz Pentium M processor, a 12.1-inch display, a 40G-byte hard drive, 256M bytes of memory, and the combination of Atheros 802.11a/b and Bluetooth wireless for $2,369.

The R40 series is the lowest-priced notebook from IBM, and the company will release new versions with either the Centrino chips or Intel's Celeron processors. An entry-level R40e will be available with a 1.7GHz Mobile Intel Celeron processor, a 13.3-inch display, a 20G-byte hard drive, 128M bytes of memory, and a CD-ROM optical drive for $949. The R40 model will also be available with Celeron processors, but a base specification with a 1.3GHz Pentium M processor, 14.1-inch display, a 20G-byte hard drive, 128M bytes of memory, ATI's Mobility Radeon graphics chip with 16M bytes of video memory, and the option to upgrade to a wireless option from Intel or Cisco costs $1,329.

-- HP's lone entry with the new Pentium-M processor is the Compaq Evo N620c, a thin-and-light notebook designed for the mobile professional, Franco said. The company chose to offer its own Multiport 802.11b wireless technology in the new notebook because it offers the customer more flexibility to choose a wireless notebook at their own pace, she said. In June, HP will launch a notebook with the complete Centrino platform, she said.

A base configuration with a 1.4GHz Pentium M, a 14.1-inch display, a 40G-byte hard drive, 256M bytes of memory, ATI's Mobility Radeon 7500 with 32M bytes of video memory, and a DVD-ROM drive costs $1,799, and will be available worldwide. More expensive configurations with faster processors and more features will be available only in the U.S.

-- Dell kicks off its new D family of Latitude notebooks with the D600 and D800. The company was able to make its C family of notebooks thinner and lighter due to Intel's new processor, said Kathleen Astl, Latitude marketing manager. The D600 weighs 4.68 pounds with a four-cell battery in a base configuration.

A base configuration of the D600 with a 1.3GHz Pentium M chip, a 14-inch display, a 20G-byte hard drive, 128M bytes of memory, the Intel Pro Wireless chip, and a CD-ROM drive costs $1,399. The D800 costs $1,699 with the 1.3GHz processor, a 15-inch display, a 20G-byte hard drive, 128M bytes of memory, a GeForce4 4200 Go graphics card from Nvidia Corp. with 32M bytes of memory, the Intel Pro Wireless chip, and an DVD-ROM drive.

The Round Rock, Texas, company will also introduce an Inspiron notebook designed specifically for the consumer, one week after updating the rest of its Inspiron line. The Inspiron 600m will cost $1,399 for a base configuration with a 1.3GHz Pentium M processor, a 14.1-inch display, a 30G-byte hard drive, 256M bytes of DDR SDRAM, and the Intel Pro Wireless card.

-- Gateway will introduce two notebooks in its 450 series on Wednesday featuring the Centrino package. The 450X comes with a 1.3GHz Pentium M processor, a 15-inch display, a 30G-byte hard drive, 256M bytes of DDR memory, the Intel Pro Wireless card, and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive for $1,599. The 450XL uses a 1.5GHz processor, a 15-inch display, a 40G-byte hard drive, 512M bytes of DDR SDRAM memory, the Intel Pro Wireless Card and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive for $1,999. Both notebooks weigh between 5.79 pounds to 6.13 pounds, depending on whether the customer chooses to use an additional battery.

Most of Gateway's customers are requesting 802.11a wireless connectivity, according to a representative. The Poway, California, company will work with those customers to provide that chip over the next few months in the form of a 802.11a/b chip, as well as an 802.11a/g chip, she said. Gateway is not disclosing the manufacturer of those wireless chips.

-- Not all the Centrino news was confined to notebooks. Motion Computing Inc. announced Wednesday it will offer a Tablet PC based on the Centrino package by the middle of this year. Motion is building its newest Tablet PC around the 900MHz ultra-low voltage Pentium M processor and Intel Pro Wireless chip, a company representative said.

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