Intel Scores With Centrino

Tests demonstrate Intel mobile chip set's promise-higher performance and better battery life-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 (see test results here).

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.

eWEEK Labs Director John Taschek can be reached at

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