Intel Centrino 2 explained

What is Centrino 2, and what does it mean for me? Our laptop expert explains the new technology.

Summer is the season for sequels, and Intel's hoping to match the blockbuster success of Centrino Duo with the latest iteration of its mobile platform, Centrino 2. Essentially a marketing term, Centrino 2 (code-named Montevina) is used to describe a raft of new technologies from Intel, including a handful of new Core 2 Duo processors; a new chipset with a faster front-side bus; a new graphics solution with support for high-definition content and switchable graphics; and updated wireless and wired connectivity.

But do you need to run out and buy a Centrino 2 laptop? What are the expected benefits? After the page break we run down the new features and what they'll mean to you.

New processors: The processors launching with the new platform are built on the same 45nm Penryn architecture that debuted earlier this year, though the new chips now all support the faster, 1,066MHz front-side bus.

Three of the processors are part of a new class of energy-efficient CPUs designed to enhance battery life; these are designated with a part number 'Pxxxx' (think P for "power optimized"). The energy-efficient CPUs have the added advantage of staying cooler than their more power-hungry counterparts, a development that should bring about even smaller, thinner laptops.

The remaining processors--part number 'Txxxx' and 'Xxxxx'--prioritize performance. All six new processors and pricing (per 1,000 units) are as follows:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 (2.26GHz): $209
  • Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (2.4GHz): $241
  • Intel Core 2 Duo P9500 (2.53GHz): $348
  • Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 (2.53GHz): $316
  • Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 (2.8GHz): $530
  • Intel Core 2 Extreme X9100 (3.06GHz): $851

Faster overall performance: The new Mobile Intel 45 Express chipset increases the frequency of the front-side bus to 1,066MHz, which helps all the components of the system communicate more quickly. The point is moot if you're using DDR2 memory, which currently tops out at 800MHz. But the new chipset also supports DDR3 memory, which has a higher peak throughput than previous memory technologies. Intel is always reluctant to quantify performance improvements, but company representatives have promised "dramatic" performance gains.

More flexible graphics. One of the big developments with Centrino 2 is support for switchable graphics. The new chipset enables systems that switch--either automatically or user-controlled--between integrated Intel graphics (to conserve battery life) and discrete graphics (for more powerful performance). Lenovo and Sony have already promised this feature in some of their latest models.

Also notable with Centrino 2 is built-in support for high-definition video playback, HDMI, and DisplayPort.

Enhanced network connections: The two wireless options available with the new platform support the 802.11n standard, and Intel promises you'll be able to roam up to twice as far as you could with the company's previous Wi-Fi chip. It's also poised to start offering WiMax support in the fall.

On the wired side, support for high-speed Gigabit Ethernet--a feature that's likely to appeal to business users--is standard with Centrino 2.

Other goodies: Centrino 2 can support 2GB of Turbo Memory, flash memory designed to speed up commonly used applications. Also, Intel continues to woo businesses by offering Centrino 2 with vPro, which incorporates a handful of additional technologies for remote management and configuration.

Overall, Centrino 2 has all the hallmarks of a box-office hit. Every component of the platform--processor, chipset, graphics, wireless--has seen at least modest enhancements designed to increase performance, decrease power consumption, and add functionality.

And while it's too early to speak in general terms, our preliminary test results seem to back up at least some of Intel's claims. The first Centrino 2 systems to hit CNET Labs have all included P-series Core 2 Duo processors, and while the performance gains are modest, all have demonstrated impressive battery life.

We expect Centrino 2 to come into clearer focus throughout the summer as we test more of the latest laptops to include the new components. Stay tuned to Crave and our laptop reviews page as we highlight and review even more systems built on the new platform.