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Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Intel updates Centrino, improves graphics

Intel has launched a renewed version of its Centrino platform for notebook computers.

The platform, known by its development code-name Sonoma, will provide benefits for both home and enterprise users, the company said. The Centrino platform, first launched in March 2003, is aimed at notebook computers and consists of three major pieces: the processor, its companion chipset and a wireless board. The new Centrino platform includes improved versions of all three components with a new chipset, called 915 Express, forming its centrepiece.

The 915 Express chipset, formerly known by the code-name Alviso, adds support for the PCI Express interconnect technology, which allows users to add more powerful graphics cards or hard drives to their notebooks. The chipset supports DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory, a next-generation memory standard that clears the way for memory chips to run at faster speeds.

The chipset also comes with support for a faster front-side bus, increasing the speed at which data flows between the processor and the memory from 400MHz to 533MHz. Multimedia improvements include support for Dolby Digital and Dolby 7.1-channel surround sound.

Changes have also been made to the wireless side of the package. There is improved networking software, both within the chipset and a new client application that Intel said will make it easier for users to connect to Wi-Fi access points and several security enhancements aimed at enterprise users.

"Sonoma brings a number of enhancements to security features," said Kevin Sellers, the managing director of market at Intel's Japanese unit, Intel KK. "These include 802.11i, the highest level of enterprise encryption available today, and Wireless Protected Access 2 -- WPA2 -- which is another increased level of wireless LAN security. It also supports Cisco extensions 3.0 and we also are allowing with Sonoma support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth co-existence."

Seven new Pentium M processors are available as part of the package. They range from a top-of-the-range model that runs at 2.13GHz to an Ultra Low Voltage version that runs at 1.2GHz.

"This touches almost everything," Sellers said of the improvements offered. "Users will get way better graphics, better battery life and be able to get all this improvements while they are out and on-the-go."

Intel presented benchmark tests that it had compiled that showed a notebook PC with a 1.6GHz processor running the new Centrino platform would deliver a 5 per cent increase in performance with no impact on battery life compared to a similar PC running at the same speed based on the old platform.

The difference in graphics performance between the same two PCs is even greater with the new Centrino platform delivering a 91 per cent increase in performance, according to Intel's benchmarks.

The Centrino technology enjoys widespread support from notebook manufacturers. Virtually every major notebook vendor, including heavyweights such as Dell, HP, Toshiba, IBM, and Sony, plan to support the new Centrino platform and Intel said it expects more than 150 different notebooks based on the new platform to be available this year.

Users shopping for a new machine will have to check specifications carefully to ensure all the benefits of the new platform are realized. This is because Intel is allowing manufacturers some degree of freedom in their selection of the Centrino platform. For example, two wireless adapters are available but only one supports 802.11a networking. Similarly, four chipsets are available to PC makers but only two of them support the faster 533MHz front-side bus.

Several new notebooks featuring the technology from these vendors and others were on display at a launch events on Wednesday.

The line-up in Tokyo included several unannounced models, including a new ThinkPad T-series machine from IBM, the NX6120 business notebook from HP and two models from Dell, the Inspiron 6000 and Latitude D610. Also on display were three models from Sony, one from Sharp and two from Toshiba.

Earlier this week BenQ announced several notebooks in its Joybook family that are based on the new Centrino platform.

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