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Intel Centrino Mobile Technology

Intel Centrino Mobile Technology

Intel Centrino Mobile Technology
Many notebook PCs sold today carry the Intel Centrino logo. Centrino combines faster processing, longer-lasting batteries and wireless connectivity. Centrino is more than just a CPU but is a combination of three separate components. This article provides some background on the technology, an overview of the current Intel products and alternatives.

Background
Centrino, Intel’s proprietary technology, has become a defacto standard for many popular brands of notebook computers. Launched in March 2003, Centrino combined the recently-released Pentium M processor, an Intel 855 chipset and an Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 (802.11b) or Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG (802.11b/g) network card.

The Pentium M processor was the most important of the three, proving popular by extending battery life over raw performance. It used 25 watts at full maximum, compared to the more than 100W the Pentium 4 3.4GHz Hyper-Threading processor used. It allowed laptops to be smaller and lighter because the cooling system requirements were much lower which in turn dramatically improved battery life.

Intel created a more efficient design with the Pentium M to reduce the amount of power used as they increased the speed. The Pentium M slowed down to 600MHz when at idle (consuming only 6W), and then just like using a gas pedal, it can accelerate to its rated speed when you ask it to do more than just simple typing. This also greatly improved battery life without losing any of its impressive speed.

The second requirement for the Centrino name was that the laptop must include the Intel 855 chipset. The chipset is a set of microchips that support the CPU. The chipset usually contains several controllers that govern how information travels between the processor and other components. When both the CPU and chipset are designed to work together, as in the case of Centrino, the results can be impressive. The Intel 855 chipset is a very low power chipset that does a great job of only running the portions of the chip necessary to perform the tasks asked of it at any given time.

The third requirement necessary to allow a laptop to be called "Centrino" is that it uses one of the Intel PRO/Wireless cards.

In January 2005 Intel introduced the Intel 915 chipset, called ‘Alviso,’ and the ‘Sonoma" processor with a 533MHz Front Side Bus Speed (FSB) instead of the old 400MHz FSB that the Intel 855 chipset supported. The Alviso/Sonoma platform supported PCI Express plus Intel GMA900 integrated graphics in the 915GM version. They also offered dual channel DDR2/533 support instead of the old DDR1/333 single channel memory.

Then, with the introduction of the ‘Dothan’ version of the Pentium M, the L2 cache is now 2,048k. With L2 cache, the processor stores the instruction sets that it uses most often. This improved speed and efficiency.

Current Products
Currently there are three versions of Centrino: Centrino Core Duo, Centrino Core Solo and the Pentium M. For processing-intensive mobile computing, the Intel Core Duo Processor executes multiple threads simultaneously using two cores, thereby helping to maximize performance and multitasking capabilities. The Core Duo processor is teamed with the Mobile Intel 945 Express Chipset which delivers enhanced mobile capabilities optimized for dual core thanks to its 667 MHz front side bus, enhanced integrated graphics and higher memory bandwidth than previous generations attributed to its DDR2-667 dual channel memory. For connectivity, the Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection provides enhanced usability and higher throughput under adverse conditions.

Intel Core Solo is a scaled down version of Core Duo with one core, meaning it is slightly slower. Pentium M CPUs will be phased out as Intel increases their focus on the Core Duo and Core Solo CPUs.

Alternatives to Centrino
The AMD Turion 64 CPU chip and the Intel Celeron-M CPU could be seen as alternatives to Centrino and both support ‘thin and light’ mobile technology, but not to the extent of the Pentium-based Centrino.

AMD is referring to their Turion 64 as a ‘Mobile Technology’ and not just a microprocessor platform. Unlike Centrino however, Turion 64 doesn’t rely on AMD-supplied chips; chipsets can be provided by a number of vendors as can the LAN and wireless controllers. This means that AMD is far less restricting on the components that make up Turion 64 enabled notebooks, which means that they will inevitably be cheaper than Centrino platforms, but it also means that they may not be as power efficient as Centrino platforms.

The Intel Celeron-M is a derivative of the Pentium-M chip. Certain functions such as the power saving Intel SpeedStep technology have been disabled. The processor is clocked lower and the level two cache is cut down to 512k. Like the AMD Turion 64 though, the Celeron-M is not a platform but rather a processor. In case you're in the market for a budget laptop, the AMD Turion or the Intel Celeron-M would be a good choice for the ‘thin and light’ category, but you won't see battery life like you would on Intel Centrino.

So there are alternatives to Centrino, but nothing quite as integrated or fast. The key is to look closely at the applications you’ll be running and make your decisions based on that. However, for fast, efficient and powerful processing, you won’t go wrong with Centrino.


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