Intel Widens Aim With Centrino Sonoma

UPDATED: Intel launched its next generation of
Centrino mobile technology, code-named Sonoma.

Different than the first-generation Centrino-branded processors, the
Sonoma version includes improved audio and video capabilities, which
Intel hopes will help its OEM partners transform notebooks into
all-in-one entertainment devices. At a press event here, executives
promoted the improved performance of the chip and its corresponding 915
Express chipset family formerly code-named Alviso.

Mooly Eden, vice president of Intel’s Mobility Group, said he has high
hopes for Sonoma based on the sales performance of the current Centrino
processor, Dothan. The company, which recently posted
better than
expected earnings
, said it has sold 10 million units of Dothan since its
launch last year and more than doubled the number of notebooks carrying
the second generation Centrino chip.

“By mid-2005, we should see a 50/50 breakdown of notebooks to desktop
PCs being offered by our OEMs, granted that we have a strong economy,”
Eden said at a press and analyst launch event here.

Already, Intel is looking forward to its fourth-generation Centrino
mobile processor. Eden said the dual-core chip known as Napa will build
on the performance of Sonoma, but he would not say whether it would
support a 64-bit or 32-bit architecture.

“We decided not to design Sonoma as a 64-bit core because the
infrastructure that exists today does not support it,” he said. “From
our perspective, 64-bit translates to transistors, which translates to
leakage and loss of battery life.”

Based on the 90-nanometer manufacturing process, the Sonoma-enhanced
Pentium M chips are expected to hit the market later this summer in
prices ranging from $270 to $705 in 1,000-unit quantities. Intel plans
to offer more than 100 configurations within the 7XX SKU family, running
from 1.20GHz to 2.13GHz.

“You also will see Intel stress Centrino performance more than in
the past, as it replaces the Mobile Pentium 4 processor in everything
mobile except high-end gaming. But none of it will increase battery
life,” Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for semiconductor research
group In-Stat, told internetnews.com. “Overall, we still feel this
is the premier mobile solution available today.”

In many ways, however, Krewell said Intel’s multi-core designs are
not very adventurous.

“The first dual-core desktop processor consists of two Prescott cores
on a single die, with little redesign,” Krewell wrote in a recent
newsletter. “The first real ground-up, dual-core design is the
65-nanometer Yonah design for notebook computers. We don’t know anything
about that design yet, but it is not expected to ship until 2006 in
systems.”

As previously
reported
, the chips will sport a 533 MHz front-side
bus; a new Wi-Fi component that supports the 802.11a,
802.11b and 802.11g wireless networking standards; and a new chipset
that supports Direct Media Interface with improved bandwidth, TV-out,
high definition audio, eight USB ports, four-port PCI Express and up to
2GB of DDR2 memory. Intel said the Alviso chipset would
also support its High Definition Audio with low power capabilities.

During his keynote address at CES this month, Intel CEO Craig Barrett
said the upcoming generation of Intel Centrino will support
accelerated graphics for high-quality DVD video playback and gaming,
theater-quality sound for MP3s and TV tuner ExpressCards.

Intel spokeswoman Barbara Grimes said the Centrino family of Pentium
M chips should see real growth in the second half of 2005, as the number
of OEMs is expected to grow from 80 to 150.

“You will see some sub-$1,000 price points, which is appealing to
consumers,” Grimes told internetnews.com. “We’re also looking at
more consumer-oriented systems than before and expanding Centrino across
the spectrum of form factors, from really small systems with
low-voltage and ultra-low voltage chips to 17-inch laptops with PVR
tuner and remote capabilities.”

Intel’s Centrino machine is certainly having a widespread effect on
the overall PC market. IT research group Gartner’s latest sales tracker
notes that strong mobile sales lifted worldwide PC shipments to 12
percent growth in 2004. Analysts said the mobile segment offset slower
sales in the U.S. and European/Middle East/African consumer markets, with
approximately 189 million units shipped last year

“Intel will certainly continue to emphasize the whole package rather
than just the processor,” Gordon Haff, senior analyst with technology
research firm Illuminata, told internetnews.com. “Doing so
emulates and extends what Intel did with the original Centrino. It also
reflects the whole thrust of yesterday’s reorganization along computing
platform lines.”

Intel announced a
reorganization
of its existing product groups to reflect its
goal of providing full sets of technology components. Executives Sean
Maloney and Dadi Perlmutter will lead the division that develops
platforms for notebook PCs and handheld computing and communications
devices.

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