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Intel Centrino 2 launch was not about the processor

The Intel Centrino 2 launch is all about the chipset.

There was relatively little said Monday at the Centrino 2 launch about new processors. Almost as little as was said about side shows such as a "Montevina" desktop design. The main attraction was the Centrino 2 chipset.

HP 6730b Centrino 2 business notebook
HP 6730b Centrino 2 business notebook Intel

Why? There's not a whole lot that's new about the processors other than faster speeds and improved power efficiency: the new "P" series chips have a thermal envelope of 25 watts versus 35 watts for the previous generation.

The focus of the Centrino 2 launch returned repeatedly to the chipset and accompanying silicon: namely, the Intel 4 Series Express chipset and 802.11n and WiMax wireless chips. And if Intel can be believed, shipments of the Centrino 2 integrated graphics silicon--"GM" chipsets--have already begun and systems may be available as early as the end of this month.

"We are already shipping integrated graphics and you will see integrated graphics on the shelf in the coming weeks," said Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group, speaking at the Centrino 2 launch in San Francisco. This is a departure from previous Intel statements.

Intel chipsets with integrated graphics and other chipsets that support separate "discrete" graphics chips will ship in as many as 250 laptops, Eden said.

Advanced Micro Devices would chime in here and say that it has doubled the number of "all AMD" (AMD processors, chipsets, and graphics) laptops with its Puma platform. "The key thing is we're in market today via Puma," said Pat Moorhead, vice president of Advanced Marketing at AMD. (More counterpoints here at Moorhead's blog.)

Though Eden touted 1.7X better 3DMark performance, and a host of other improved benchmarks over the previous Centrino platform, he spent most of the time Monday talking about features of the Centrino 2 chipset, including hardware accelerators for playback of Blue-ray video (the ability to view a two-hour Blue-ray movie on a typical laptop battery), faster transcoding (converting, for example, audio from one format to another), and Intel "Switchable Graphics," which allows the turning off and on of a discrete graphics chip. The latter is a power-saving feature because integrated graphics uses less power than a higher-performance discrete graphics chip from Nvidia or AMD-ATI.

AMD has something very similar already called "ATI PowerXpress Technology" that provides high-performance discrete graphics when plugged into a power source, then dynamically switches to integrated graphics when unplugged, saving up to 90 minutes of battery life, AMD claims.

Intel Switchable Graphics
Intel Switchable Graphics Intel

Then there's WiMax. A sore subject with Intel--Eden referred to "vicious rumors" about WiMax. Though Intel is still a bit cagey about the launch of the WiMax infrastructure, Eden brought out Barry West, chief technology officer of Sprint Nextel and president of the company's new WiMax division, Xohm Networks, to talk about the upcoming WiMax launch in Baltimore, Maryland in September with "150 plus sites."

The Intel WiMAXWiFi Link 5350 silicon will be available for Centrino 2 laptops "in the second half of 2008," according to Intel.

On the gaming front, Intel announced that in addition to a new X9100 Extreme mobile processor (3.06GHz) shipping now, the first quad-core mobile processor will be available within 90 days.

Finally, Intel showed a desktop "Montevina" design. that wasn't much bigger than a cigar box.

Intel Centrino 2 processor pricing as follows*:
--X9100** (3.06GHz): $851.
--T9600 (2.8GHz): $530
--P9500 (2.53GHz): $348
--T9400 (2.53Ghz): $316
--P8600 (2.4GHz): $241
--P8400 (2.26GHz): $209

*The P prefix indicates a 25-watt thermal envelope, T series is 35 watts, and X "Extreme" series is 45 watts.

**X9100 will be followed by the first quad-core mobile processor "within 90 days."