Intel names mobile chip family

The company replaces a collection of code names for a new processor, chipset and radio module with a single brand name--Centrino--aiming to suggest flight and mobility.

Intel on Tuesday announced a new brand name for its next-generation mobile processor technology: Centrino.

The new chip family, which includes the processor formerly known by the code name Banias, was designed to help manufacturers build notebooks that use less power and offer extended battery life, along with better wireless networking capabilities.

Instead of just giving Banias a variation on the company's well-known Pentium moniker, Intel decided to set the family of chips apart with a completely new name. A few insiders at Intel had been jokingly referring to the Banias chip as Mobilium, but Intel will call the new chip itself Pentium-M.

Intel says the Centrino name, and a new logo that goes with it, suggest flight and mobility. The name is a blend of the words "center" and "neutrino," the company said. (A Google search on "centrino" also reveals the term to be a common one in Italian embroidery circles.)

"The Centrino brand signifies a new generation of mobile PCs that will change where and how people compute," Pam Pollace, vice president and director of Intel's corporate marketing group, said in a statement.

The Centrino family will also include chipsets, which handle data inside a PC, and wireless radio modules designed to allow new notebooks to use 802.11 wireless networking.

As expected, Intel will talk about Centrino and its overall wireless strategy in more detail at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Details such as exact pricing and clock speed, however, aren't likely to be disclosed.

Intel is expected to unveil Centrino in late March or early April. But when the chip comes out, it will represent a difficult marketing proposition for the chipmaker.

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The Pentium-M chip is expected to initially run at speeds of about 1.4GHz, considerably slower than the Pentium 4-M mobile processor. That chip runs at 2.2GHz now, but is expected to jump to 2.4GHz this quarter.

While the new chip will not match the clock speed of the Pentium 4-M, the chipmaker will argue that Centrino outperforms the Pentium 4-M in other ways, such as extending the battery life of notebooks past what Pentium 4-M models offer. The Centrino chip is also expected to include a few tricks to narrow the performance gap, such as using a large cache. Meanwhile, Centrino chipsets will also allow notebook makers to help integrate wireless capabilities.

But Calexico, the company's wireless module for Centrino, has also hit development and regulatory snags. Intel will offer an 802.11b module when Centrino begins shipping, but a planned dual-band 802.11a and 802.11b module has been delayed until sometime later in the first half of the year, the company said recently.

Despite these issues, a wide range of notebook manufacturers are expected to adopt the Centrino technology in a multitude of so-called thin-and-light notebook models, and in some even smaller ones. Thin-and-lights typically weigh 5 pounds or less, and include a hard drive and a bay for a floppy, CD or DVD drive.

The new chip and chipsets may find the most success at first with businesses buyers who value lighter notebooks. Notebook sales to consumers in the last year or so have been trending toward larger, less-expensive desktop replacement models that combine big screens with Intel's faster desktop Pentium 4 processors.

The combination generally provides good performance and lower prices, but does not deliver the same battery life as a Pentium 4-M processor and should be well outpaced by the battery performance of the Centrino chips.

However, some analysts believe that this trend will reverse itself as wireless hot spots--areas such as airports or cafes where people can connect to the internet wirelessly--become more popular.

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