Intel puts Pentium M in networking gear

The company starts selling its Pentium M chip for notebooks as a chip for networking devices, part of its effort to become a dominant manufacturer in the communications market.

Michael Kanellos
Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
3 min read
Intel has begun to sell its Pentium M processor for notebooks as a chip for networking devices, part of the company's long, slow slog to become a dominant manufacturer in the communications market.

The Pentium M, which debuted last month in Centrino notebooks, will essentially function as the nerve center inside telecommunications servers running virtual private networks, voice over IP applications, voice messaging systems or firewalls.

Nokia Networks has already said it will use the chip in some of its networking products. Other companies, such as QNX and Momentum Computer, are also building products for Pentium M-based communications equipment.

Intel currently sells its Xeon and other processors into this market, but the Pentium M holds fairly strong potential because it uses less energy than other Intel processors. A Xeon chip, originally designed for standard servers from the computing world, can consume 35 or more watts of energy, said Jonathan Luse, communications industry marketing manager for Intel.

By contrast, the Pentium M comes with a thermal envelope, or maximum power rating, of 12 to 25 watts.

"The thermally optimized micro-architecture of the Intel Pentium M processor allows us to design highly dense mobile infrastructure solutions with the maximum processing performance per square foot." said Ari Virtanen, vice president of Nokia's Network Platforms unit, in a statement.

In some ways, the chip will perform different functions in telecommunications equipment than in notebooks. In telecommunications servers, a substantial portion of the work is performed by network processors, which channel the flow of information packets. The Pentium M will effectively manage these network processors. In addition, the chip can serve as a security processor. In notebooks, data flow is less of a concern, and the chip spends more time churning applications like spreadsheets or shoot-'em-up games. Often, other, less-expensive chips handle security functions.

Last month, Intel said it was working to fully certify that Linux would run on the Pentium M. Linux is the preferred operating system for telecommunications servers.

Intel has set its sights on the telecommunications market for the past five years. Historically, communications companies developed their own chips, an expensive process made more difficult by the fact that chips from one piece of communications equipment often couldn't be reused on another product line.

In the late '90s, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker devised a strategy of selling cheaper, reusable chips into this market. To that end, it bought more than 35 companies for more than $11 billion between 1999 and 2002, mostly in the communications area.

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Unfortunately for the company, the telecommunications collapse coincided with Intel's plans, and the communications group has largely been unprofitable. The company also began to shed some of its acquisitions, including Shiva and Xircom.

Intel executives, though, say that cutbacks and cost concerns at networking and telecommunications companies will eventually prod these companies into buying reusable chips from semiconductor makers.

The 1.6GHz version of the Pentium M is priced at $625, while a version running at 1.1GHz that consumes less power is available at $257 in 10,000 unit quantities.