Intel Expands Pentium M Line, Talks SoftAP

Last month, Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip-making giant Intel introduced three new core processors used in Centrino chipsets. Today the company added two more CPUs to the collection that formerly was codenamed Dothan. This comes on the heels of news that the next generation of desktop chips that shipped this week won’t include Wi-Fi as previously planned.

The new Dothan chips, called the Pentium M 715 and 725, are made using a 90nm manufacturing technology. Both have 2Mb of integrated Level 2 cache and a 400MHz system bus compatible with the Intel 855 chipset family. The 715 runs at 1.50GHz clock speeds, the 725 runs at 1.60 GHz. In quantities of 1,000 units, the chips will cost $209 for the 715 and $241 for the 725.

The other Dothan chips already shipping include the 755, 745 and 735 processors running at 2GHz, 1.8GHz and 1.7GHz, respectively. These chips succeed the successful Banias chips that were part of the original Centrino Mobile technology.

All of the 7XX model Pentium M chips are featured in new laptops using Centrino. PCs with the Centrino brand come with either 802.11g or dual-band 802.11a/g wireless embedded on a miniPCI card on the system. The first three Dothan chips were released at the one-year anniversary of the Centrino initiative, which included a $300 million dollar advertising campaign to push wireless into the mainstream consciousness.

This all sounds good for laptop users, but Intel was also hoping to push Wi-Fi into more than just portables. Late last year, the company announced plans to build technology into future desktop chipsets — “the ‘glue’ between the microprocessor and the rest of the PC,” according to an Intel press release — that could turn desktop PCs into “softAPs.” Such computers would serve as software-based access points on a wireless network, adding to the overall capabilities of the WLAN. The chipset in question, previously called Grantsdale –now the 915 G/P, where the G version includes integrated graphics — is available this week (along with the Alderwood, now the 925 X).

However, there’s no softAP ability. eWeek first reported this last week, saying that soft AP ability won’t happen at all.

“The capability is still there,” says Dan Snyder, technical PR manager for desktop products at Intel. “The issue is twofold. We’re looking at real-world field testing to make sure setup is bullet proof. But it’s not just the chipset alone. You need a PCI Card.”

Users that want to turn a computer with the 915 or 925 chipset into an access point will be required to get a separate PCI card with the complete Wi-Fi MAC/baseband/radio on board. The card will be called the Intel PRO/Wireless 2225BG Network Connection solution and will have to be installed internally on the PC. This means either original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) would have to put them in or it would be up to the end user.

Most of the wireless work will be done on the PCI card — the 915 chipset just does some tuning. But much like Centrino, which requires the presence of the Pentium M, an Intel chipset, and a Wi-Fi miniPCI, so will too will Intel’s desktop wireless AP require all Intel components.

Third parties can still turn any computer with Wi-Fi into a softAP. PCTEL is just one company with such a solution.

The company had previously announced that even if the softAP technology had been available, it would have been turned off by default to prevent the proliferation of unsecured access points on wireless LANs.

Only 915-based PCs with the ICH6W I/O hub can be upgraded to use the PCI card with Wi-Fi radio capabilities tied into the processor. No other known Wi-Fi products can interface with the new ICH6W.

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