Intel's Centrino



Authors: Ravi Madapati,
Faculty Member,
ICMR (IBS Center for Management Research).

Centrino is Intel's first integrated computing technology designed specifically for mobile computing with a built-in wireless LAN capability. It enables extended battery life and sleek, easy-to-carry notebook computers. Intel believes the product is ideally suited for a range of thinner, lighter notebooks that deliver the levels of performance needed in mobile computing. But how the markets will respond to Intel's latest offering, remains a big question mark.

"The Intel Centrino brand signifies a new generation of mobile PCs that will change where and how people compute. Whether at work, at home, at an airport or a café, Centrino mobile technology will bring the freedom and flexibility of being unwired.."

-Pam Pollace1
Vice-President and Director, Corporate Marketing Group, Intel.

In early 2003, Craig Barrett (Barrett), CEO of Intel was reviewing the prospects for his company's new mobile technology, branded as Centrino. The Intel Centrino brand represented a microprocessor (formerly code-named "Banias"), related chipsets and Wi-Fi2 wireless networking capability. This was the first time Intel branded a combination of technologies under one name. Centrino enabled extended battery life. Intel believed the product was ideally suited for a range of thinner, lighter notebooks that delivered outstanding performance to satisfy the needs of mobile computing. Barrett wondered how the market would receive Intel's latest offering.

Background Note

Centrino was Intel's new technology designed specifically for mobile computing with a built-in Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) capability. It also enabled extended battery life and sleek, easy-to-carry notebook computers. This was Intel's first integrated computing technology designed from scratch for wireless notebook PCs.

Centrino had been tested and validated with leading wireless security hardware, and software, as well as with leading access-point providers3.Centrino consisted largely of three parts: A new microprocessor called the Intel Pentium M processor, the Intel 855 Chipset Family and the Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 network connection. Software and specialized packaging were also included. The three components together attempted to deliver a significantly enhanced performance in wireless connectivity.

In developing the Pentium M, at its labs in Israel, Intel solved one of the historical problems with Pentium notebooks, power consumption. Despite new chip technologies and industry-wide efforts in the 1990s to increase overall notebook energy efficiency, growing screen sizes and faster chips wiped out many of the gains. Intel-based notebooks typically had a battery life of two to four hours. In late 1998, details began to emerge about Transmeta, a company, funded by high-profile investors such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and hedge fund guru George Soros. Transmeta was working on an energy-efficient processor that could run Windows with technical support from Linus Torvalds , the creator of Linux.

Although company executives had said that the Pentium M was independently conceived, Transmeta imposed a sense of urgency on Intel. Intel's Israeli team decided to start from scratch. Although it ran the same Windows software as Pentiums, the chip had a different architecture. Among the new features was a program called Micro Ops Fusion, which combined routine instructions and tasks, thereby saving time and energy. Intel likened the process to a bunch of people at the airport sharing a cab, rather than taking separate taxis. The Pentium M lay at the heart of the Centrino technology.

Advanced Branch Prediction, another important Centrino feature helps the processor to better schedule tasks. Different parts of the chip such as the system bus and even the Wi Fi chips shut down when not in use. Energy-efficiency meant lower megahertz. The chip initially worked at 1.6GHz, far slower than the Pentium 4, which ran at 2.4GHz. Centrino used the latest generation of enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology, which optimized application performance and power usage. For less computing-intensive programs, Centrino automatically adjusted and "powered down" to preserve battery life whenever possible. This was facilitated by:

* Aggressive platform power management, which increased component power utilization efficiency.
* Intelligent power distribution, which focused the system power where the processor needed it most.
* New power-optimized logic design, which optimized consumption and dissipation levels for lower CPU average power.

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1] Intel Announces Centrino Mobile Technology Brand Name, Intel Press Release, January 8, 2003, California, US.
2] Short for wireless fidelity and is meant to be used generically when referring to any type of networks. The Wi-Fi technology lets devices located within a 300-foot radius of one another communicate without wires. Any products tested and approved as "Wi-Fi Certified" (a registered trademark) are certified as interoperable with each other, even if they are from different manufacturers.
3] Such as companies like Lucent Technologies.