Intel Mostly Launches Centrino 2 Notebook Platform

Intel on Monday decided it was time to launch its already delayed Centrino 2 notebook platform despite the absence of the ambitious, combined WiMAX/WiFi module which was originally intended to be part of the next-generation mobile package at launch.

Ongoing FCC certification issues around the WiMAX/WiFi card forced Intel to leave its much-touted 4G wireless technology out of the mix on Centrino 2's big day.

A seperate problem, a technical issue with integrated graphics on the main Centrino 2 chipset, has been resolved, according to Intel. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker originally scheduled its Centrino 2 launch for late June but in May pushed it back to mid-July due to the chipset glitch.

Intel released five new Core 2 Duo mobile processors and a blazing fast Core 2 Extreme chip as part of the Centrino 2 launch in San Francisco. The WiMAX/Wi-Fi 5050 Series module that had been planned as an optional feature for the first line of Centrino 2 laptops will be released later in the year, according to Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group and moderator of the launch event held at Mezzanine in downtown San Francisco.

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Formerly codenamed Montevina, Centrino 2 is Intel's fifth-generation Centrino platform, succeeding the Santa Rosa and Santa Rosa refresh editions of the chip giant's mobile hardware technology.

Intel, like main microprocessor rival Advanced Micro Devices recently did with its own mobile platform launch, was clearly playing up total solution opportunities for notebook builders and resellers rather than stressing individual components at Monday's launch event.

AMD, headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., launched its Puma notebook platform in early June. As with an earlier desktop platform release, AMD packaged mobile hardware combinations for three computing areas, AMD Live for mainstream multimedia consumers, AMD Game for enthusiasts and AMD Business Class for commercial deployments.

Intel appeared to be following suit Monday. Among the dozens of notebooks on display at Mezzanine were simple, cost-effective rigs for mainstream users, high-end gaming systems with discrete graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD-ATI, and business PCs featuring Intel's proprietary vPro platform for secure out-of-band system management across commercial notebook fleets.

And Intel's Montevina design wins were spread across its broad partner channel. Centrino 2 notebooks from HP, Lenovo and other Tier 1 OEMs were showcased alongside whitebooks built by regional players like Seneca Data and Equus Computer Systems.

Next: Speeds And Feeds

If the platform was the message at Monday's launch, components remain a favorite talking point at Intel events and Eden couldn't resist talking up the 3.06GHz Core 2 Extreme mobile processor released as part of Centrino 2. Designated the X9100, the new top dog in the chip giant's mobile chip portfolio is a 45-nanometer Penryn class chip with 6M of L2 cache with front side bus (FSB) transfers that clock at 1066MHz.

That mobile monster lists for $851 on Intel's latest price guide released Tuesday. At press time, Intel hadn't adjusted similar $851 price tags on three earlier Core 2 Extreme notebook processors, including two 2.8GHz devices and a 2.6GHz chip.

Downstream from the X9100 were five new Core 2 Duo mobile chips released Monday, all of them 45nm and featuring 1066MHz on the FSB. Three of the new Core 2 Duos have 6M of L2 cache, including the T9600 (2.8GHz, $530), the P9500 (2.53GHz, $348) and the T9400 (also 2.53GHz, $316). The remaining pair, with 3M of L2 cache, are the P8600 (2.4GHz, $241) and the P8400 (2.26GHz, $209). The former top chip in the Core 2 Duo mobile line, the 2.6GHz T9500 with 6M of L2 cache and 800MHz FSB speed, was still listed at $530 as of Tuesday.

Eden also promised eight more mobile processors from Intel over the next three months, including a quad-core part for notebooks and devices built for ultra-thin and light form factors.

On the graphics side, the bulk of Centrino 2 notebooks likely to be shipped will feature integrated graphics on Intel's GM45 chipset. The technical problem with that board is "in the rearview mirror," said an Intel spokesman Monday, adding that the problem that delayed the Montevina launch "was solved with a BIOS update and a new driver made available to ODMs several weeks ago."

High-end Centrino 2 systems with discrete cards feature what Intel has dubbed "switchable graphics," technology that alternates between usage of integrated graphics and the discrete GPU to save power and extend battery life. If switchable graphics sounds a lot like Nvidia's Hybrid SLI and AMD-ATI's PowerXpress technologies that do much the same thing, Eden admitted as much in fielding a question following his presentation.

One more technology Eden touched on was what Intel calls Deep Power Down, which turns off core clocks and cache memory when a laptop is idle. Getting to that idle state is a pressing concern for Intel, the Mobile Platforms Group chief said, which is why the chip maker lives by the credo "HUGI" or "Hurry Up and Get Idle." Faster processor and platform performance in completing tasks on Centrino 2 hardware gets the new notebooks to that HUGI state at an improved clip over previous Centrino generations, Eden said.