Sonoma Breathes New Life Into Laptops

By Anne Chen  |  Posted 2005-03-07

Sonoma Breathes New Life Into Laptops

Corporations may still be making IT expenditures cautiously, but eWEEK Labs believes the release of Intel Corp.s next-generation Centrino mobile technology will loosen some purse strings as enterprises move to refresh their laptop lines.

Code-named Sonoma, the new Centrino platform can boost the mobile computing experience with better performance and improved audio and graphics capabilities. Sonoma was launched in January, and more than 150 notebook designs based on it are expected to be released.

Centrino and other mobile technologies have already played a big role in the growth of the PC market. Gartner Inc. reported that strong mobile PC sales boosted worldwide PC shipments 11.8 percent higher in 2004 than in 2003.

Sonoma comprises three components: the latest Intel Pentium M Processors (code-named Dothan), the Mobile Intel 915 Express Chipset (code-named Alviso), and Intel Pro/Wireless 2915ABG or 2200BG wireless adapters .

Sonomas improvements over the previous-generation Centrino, which was code-named Banias, include a 533MHz front-side bus (versus the 400MHz front-side bus in Banias), as well as a PCI Express bus architecture, which enables more data to move through fewer lines via a serial link. PCI Express links run at 1.5GHz as opposed to PCIs 133MHz.

But Sonomas most significant improvements come by way of Dothan: Seven Intel Pentium M Processors, running at clock speeds of up to 2.13GHz, and as much as 2MB of on-chip memory are available.

Improved graphics are the result not only of the new Centrinos 533MHz front-side bus, but also because of Intels support for dual-channel DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory and the new Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 graphics core.

However, while Sonoma brings laptop technology closer to what workstations and desktops are capable of, enterprise IT buyers need to consider whether features such as enhanced graphics and high-definition audio are really necessary for their road warriors. Enterprise IT buyers will also need to keep in mind that some of these features are optional, so, if you do need them, be sure the notebooks you are purchasing have the required capabilities.

In addition to its impact on the PC market in general, Centrino technology has also had an impact on the Wi-Fi market by increasing the demand for wireless capabilities in laptops.

The portable wireless computing trend is expected to continue, with InStat MDR predicting that 100 percent of notebook PCs will ship with Wi-Fi capabilities by 2007. (Research company InStat MDR is a division of Reed Elsevier plc.)

The first generation of Centrino included a combination IEEE 802.11b/g chip set, but eWEEK Labs believes Sonomas inclusion of a chip set with IEEE 802.11a/b/g technology will drive enterprise adoption of tri-mode technology.

Next page: Future plans.

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The 802.11a brand of Wi-Fi, with a 54M-bps transfer rate, uses a spectrum around 5GHz and is not as popular as 802.11b/g networks that use the 2.4GHz spectrum. However, because there is less interference in the 5GHz band, we expect to see an increasing number of enterprises purchasing the 802.11a/b/g option as corporate laptops are refreshed.

eWEEK Labs recommends that IT managers evaluating laptops carefully consider how—or if—they can take advantage of all the features in the new mobile platform.

For example, only one of two currently available wireless adapters for Sonoma supports tri-mode IEEE 802.11a/b/g networks. The Dell Inc. Latitude D610 notebook eWEEK Labs tested was equipped with the 802.11b/g version. And only two of the chip sets offered for Sonoma support the faster 533MHz front-side bus.

Click here to read the review of the Latitude D610.

Intel is now working on the fourth-generation Centrino mobile processor, code-named Napa. Intel executives have said little about Napa so far, but there is speculation that the platform will support WiMax capabilities because of previous statements from company officials that WiMax would be a feature in notebooks by 2006.

Mooly Eden, vice president of the mobility group at Intel, said that Napa, a dual-core chip, will build on the capabilities of Sonoma. However, Eden declined to say whether it would support a 64-bit architecture.

At this time, in fact, it appears that Intel officials do not believe that 64-bit is ready for mobile prime time.

"We decided not to design Sonoma as a 64-bit core because the infrastructure that exists today does not support it," said Eden at the Sonoma launch in January. "From our perspective, 64-bit translates to transistors, which translate to leakage and loss of battery life."

Intels archrival, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., would beg to differ. AMD is readying its Turion 64 mobile processor, and AMD officials in January touted the success of the companys Mobile AMD Athlon 64 processors at the International Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas.

AMD is beginning to gain momentum in its attempt to challenge Intel in the notebook market. AMD currently offers four mobile chips: the Mobile Athlon 64, the Athlon 64 for Notebooks, the Mobile Sempron and the mobile Athlon XP-M.

While AMD has revealed few details about Turion 64 so far, executives have said that the technology will be optimized to enable AMD64 performance on a mobile platform and will include built-in security for Windows XP Service Pack 2, wireless capabilities and extended battery life.

Laptops based on AMD64 processors are expected to be available the first half of this year.

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached via e-mail at

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