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Intel does the Centrino shuffle

The chipmaker officially pulls the wraps off its wireless Centrino processor bundle, which it hopes will be a shot in the arm for the computing and communications industries.

NEW YORK--Intel on Wednesday officially launched Centrino, a group of chips designed specifically for wireless computing, which the company is betting will be a shot in the arm for the computing and communications industries.

Centrino was created by Intel

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to foster a new generation of portable PCs that run longer on battery power and connect more easily to wireless networks. Virtually all of the major manufacturers will sell notebooks containing the Centrino bundle, which contains Intel's new low-power Pentium-M processor, a chipset and a Wi-Fi chip tested by Intel.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker ushered Centrino into the United States at an event at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom. The launch is part of a $300 million promotional campaign for Centrino, which chairman Andy Grove recently described as "second only to the introduction of Pentium."

The energy efficiency and ease of wireless access provided by the bundle could put Centrino-powered devices on a par with creations such as the transistor radio or the microwave oven, said the company.

The Centrino launch comes at a key time for the tech industry to deal with changes "in the usage pattern of real people using real technology to solve problems," Craig Barrett, Intel's CEO, said at a meeting before the launch event.

"People are really ready to use this technology. You all lug your laptops around with you. You look for phone jacks?or increasingly for wired connections in hotel rooms," Barrett said later in a keynote address. "What we want to do is provide an alternative to that."

By 2005, research firm Gartner expects that there will be 44 million users of wireless "hot spots" worldwide and that 80 percent of all commercial notebooks sold will be wireless-enabled. Computer makers, but also service providers, hope to profit in this wake.

Intel and PC manufacturers expect the Pentium-M chip to be the predominant notebook chip in the U.S. market by this time next year. Wireless will grow rapidly, too. Thirty-five percent of notebooks shipping at the end of 2003 will contain integrated wireless capabilities, predicts analyst firm IDC.

The new Pentium-M processors range from 900MHz to 1.6GHz in speed, with a 1.7GHz Pentium-M likely to appear in the second


Intel's new Centrino line--plus
branding efforts and investments--
should spur the wireless sector.

quarter. List prices for the Centrino bundles range from $292 to $720, while the Pentium-M chip itself ranges in price from $209 to $637. At these prices, the Pentium-M chips are selling for premiums of more than $100 compared to equivalent Pentium 4Ms.

As previously reported, nearly every name-brand computer manufacturer launched a slew of new notebooks containing the Pentium-M processor on Wednesday.

In addition, a wide variety of hotels, restaurants and other public spaces are opening hot spots for wireless Internet access. McDonald's recently fitted one of its New York fast-food outlets with a wireless network, granting customers bits along with bites of their food, a company executive said.

However, competition looms. Although every major PC maker plans to come out with Centrino notebooks, nearly all of them are also coming out with Pentium-M computers that use non-Intel wireless products.