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Grove: Centrino's our No. 2 product

Chairman Andy Grove says the multimillion-dollar campaign for its soon-to-arrive Centrino chips is second only to the introduction of the Pentium in terms of its importance to Intel.

The campaign behind Centrino, a group of chips designed specifically for wireless computing, is "second only to the introduction of the Pentium" in terms of importance for Intel, said company chairman Andy Grove.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker is

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planning a multimillion-dollar push for Centrino notebooks and tablet PCs, which are set to debut March 12. The chips will help jump-start a shift toward wireless computing, Grove said during at a press event at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday.

For the past two decades, computing has largely been a stationary, deskbound activity. Wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, which allows the creation of wireless networks with a radius of around 300 feet, will let people and companies break out of established behavioral patterns, he said, and eliminate many costs.

"Wires have been the natural enemy of computing," Grove said.

Additionally, it will help PC makers and chip companies sell new computers. Intel will put approximately $300 million into a marketing push to promote the chip bundle, and is investing millions of dollars in start-ups that focus on security and other aspects of the wireless build-out. The company put around $300 million into the first Pentium campaign, which kicked off almost exactly a decade ago on March 18, 1993.

"I look at it (Centrino) as a shot in the arm for the computing and communication industries," he said.

The public, to a large degree, has raced ahead of industry and government agencies in clearing the path for wireless technologies. Approximately 15 million Wi-Fi notebooks are currently in use, while millions of Wi-Fi hot spots--where wireless Web access is available to the public or to subscribers--have already been set up. Products such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry, which allow users to get e-mail on the road, have also proved popular. Grove said he uses his device during downtime, in his car and while walking around.

"If I am going to get killed, it is not because of a cell phone. It is because of a BlackBerry," he said.

Wireless technologies will "also increasingly be used for the last-mile connection" to homes, he stated. "You can roll it out without going through a six-year legislative process."

Still, wireless nirvana is still in the future. At the Centrino launch, Intel will have a task in ensuring consumers don't get confused between Intel's multiple chip brands, he said. The Centrino designation will only be used on notebooks that incorporate Intel's Pentium-M chip, an Intel chipset and an Intel-approved Wi-Fi chip. Manufacturers that put in their own Wi-Fi chips will have to market their notebooks as Pentium-M machines.

Service providers in addition will have to build out wireless networks. Seamless operation between notebooks and service providers will also have to be ensured.

Asked if he liked the Italianate name, Grove replied, "Adjusted for time, I am just as fond of the name 'Centrino,'" adding that Intel President Paul Otellini thought that "Pentium" sounded like a toothpaste additive back in the early 1990s.