Centrino Scores

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2003-03-17 Print this article Print

Tests demonstrate Intel mobile chip set's promise, but gaps remain in wireless LAN coverage.

Intel Corp. promised two things with Centrino, the companys brand name for its mobile processor and modular chip set: higher performance with better battery life and a wireless module that integrates well with the chip set. Tests show that Intel is close to delivering on these promises.

The first thing to note is that the processor in the Centrino package runs typically at a slower frequency than the Pentium 4-M, Intels previous- generation mobile technology. Most notebook vendors, for example, had 2.4GHz Pentium 4-M systems in their lineups. Most of the new Centrino-based notebook processors will clock in at 1.6GHz, although Intel will also offer 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz versions.

Frequency doesnt matter so much, as long as the chip design includes big caches and highly accurate branch prediction. The Centrino processor has met or exceeded expectations here, making notebooks based on the Mobile Pentium 4 completely unappealing for almost all practical purposes. In tests, Centrino—which is actually based on a modified Pentium III core and Pentium 4-like bus—outperformed the higher-frequency, power-hogging Pentium 4 devices hands down.

For example, in tests conducted by PC Magazine Labs, Centrino- configured notebooks were typically more than 25 percent faster than Pentium 4-based devices. This is mostly due to the fact that Centrino includes a whopping 1MB of Level 2 cache, which is double that of the Pentium 4-M. Part of the Centrino design includes ways of fluctuating the cache speed and power usage so performance does not erode battery life.

The Intel design succeeds. Battery life tests show that, on average, notebook battery life of Centrino-based systems is 50 percent better than in Pentium 4-M configurations. The result is that typical Centrino notebooks will last more than 5 hours with a standard nine-cell lithium-ion battery.

eWeek Labs examination of notebook specifications correspond to PC Magazines benchmarks. For example, IBM claims that its X30 subnotebook, based on the Pentium III-M, could yield 4.5 hours of battery life in its standard configuration. IBM claims that its X31 notebook—the same design but with the Centrino processor—yields 5 hours of battery life, just a 10 percent improvement. However, the X31s performance is substantially greater than that of the older and slower Pentium III-M-based system.

Intel has developed a wireless mini-PCI network card for use in Centrino platforms, but it supports only 802.11b. This leaves notebook vendors free to include competing cards.

Search for more stories by John Taschek.

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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