Intel Centrino Getting a Boost

Intel's new mobile chip is delayed, but its new 802.11g chipset and radio is shipping. Rob Enderle thinks it is now time to embrace 802.11g because it is faster, the radio is stronger, and these improvements come at no extra cost.

No surprise: Intel is raising the wireless bar in 2004. The company this month announced notebooks that feature the new 802.11bg chipset. In its latest financial report, meanwhile, Intel said that "Dothan," the next generation of Pentium M (the processor component of the Centrino bundle) will reach notebooks in Q2 2004. (Originally notebooks with this part were slated to arrive this quarter; the date slipped, however, because of a bumpy transition to volume manufacturing.)

One of the problems with first-generation Centrino notebooks was that the wireless performance wasnt as good as products based on Atheros or Broadcom technology. This gap had more to do with the Philips radio used in the product than it did the chipset, but the problem made it more difficult to make and sustain a network connection. In time, OEMs became more adept at tuning their products. While the disadvantage remained, it became less pronounced.

However, virtually all of the products that used the Pentium M chip without the Centrino bundle went to 802.11g mid-year. (This enhanced technology offers substantial performance benefits over 802.11b when used with an 802.11g access point.) Although few hotspots used 802.11g, the home market jumped onto 802.11g with both feet, quickly superseding "b."


There were dual radio 802.11a/b solutions from IBM and others that were used as a stopgap, but 802.11a, while it has advantages over 802.11g (typically less interference, for one) was vastly more expensive and had range shortcomings. So most analysts feel that 802.11a wont be around for long.

Of course, 802.11g isnt perfect; a lot of the testing being done in the consumer market for wireless entertainment devices demonstrates that interference in the home sharply degrades performance. (Strangely enough, much of the testing has switched to 802.11a as a result.) Then theres the move to 802.11n, which isnt approved as a standard yet but is supposed to address the interference problems, provide backward compatibility with 802.11g, and become the new, "perfect" standard. Unfortunately, we probably wont see much of "n" until next year.

That brings us back to 802.11g, Intel, and its plans to ship a new chipset and radio for 802.11g, both of which should be vastly better then the old 802.11b part. Unless you are really trying to move video files at home, 802.11g should be good enough, and an improvement like this is never a bad thing.

So anticipate the new Pentium M in a few months. At that time, well be able to compare it to the old Pentium M and Transmetas Efficion to find out what the best deal is. Until then move your laptop specification to 802.11g. It is here, it is much faster, and as part of Centrino it comes without additional charges. And that, too, is a good thing.

Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.