Intel Pushes Back Centrino Launch

Delay comes as both Intel and AMD prep to launch laptop platforms to capture the important back-to-school market.

Intel is pushing back the release date of its new Centrino 2 mobile platform after the chip maker found problems with the platform's integrated graphics as well as issues related to applying for certification to use 802.11 n wireless standards.

In a May 27 e-mail, an Intel spokesperson said that the release of the Centrino 2 platform, which had been codenamed "Montevina," had been pushed back after the problems were discovered. The new processors, which are part of the company's 45-nanometer Penryn line, and chip sets, were originally scheduled for release in late June.

Now, Intel will release some of its new chip sets, along with its Core 2 Duo and Extreme mobile processors, on July 14, with the complete line of chip sets and its full line of wireless chips in the first week of August. PC vendors are expected to launch notebooks based on the available chips sets and processors in July, according to Intel.

The delay comes as both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices prepare to launch new laptop platforms to capture the important back-to-school market that usually begins to take shape in June. AMD is expected to launch its "Puma" platform in early June around the 2008 Computex show in Taiwan.

"This couple-of-weeks delay does not change our outlook for the second quarter," Bill Kircos, an Intel spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. "These laptops are in high demand and this is an important introduction for everyone involved. We're doing our best to make sure we meet the critical back-to-school buying time and also have a high state of readiness of all of our products to best meet demand."

Graphics and FCC Certification Troubles

The announcement from Intel, which is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., comes a few days after Doug Freedman, an analyst with American Technology Research, wrote a research report that indicated there were problems with the Centrino 2 platform.

The first issue revolved around missteps in completing the Federal Communications Commission certification that allows the platform to use the newer 802.11 n wireless technology. This meant Intel could ship the full platform overseas, but it would have to delay its release in the United States or have it ship with the older 802.11 a/b/g wireless standards.

The other issues involved the integrated graphics with Intel's own chip sets. While high-end notebooks could use discrete graphics chips from Nvidia or ATI, this problem affects lower-end notebooks that the OEMs tend to sell in volumes to students as well as businesses and enterprise customers.

"We believe the potential impact is to lower-end systems as higher-end notebooks are designed with discrete graphics cards," Freedman wrote on May 23. "In fact, the impact on [Intel] is a possible improvement in mix within the chip set business; however, it is offset by the yield loss related to the functional issues."

Intel is not commenting on the specific problems with its integrated graphics and chip sets. Kircos noted that the company found the problems in the final testing of the new platform and Intel would have to re-screen the parts before shipping. With the FCC certification, Kircos said the problem was with the paperwork regarding certification and the antennae testing required.

"We are taking the extra days to address two issues that require us to re-screen our chip sets with integrated graphics and attend to some -Ts and Cs' [terms and conditions] mistakes while filing and testing our wireless antennas," Kircos wrote.

Centrino's Stumble Is Puma's Chance

John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said that this is the first significant delay of an Intel product in nearly two years, although he doubted whether the delay would have an impact on the company reaching its back-to-school or business audience.

"It's very difficult to develop a platform like this and we have to assume there is always a lot of work going on behind the scenes to ensure everything works," Spooner said, adding that any problems with the integrated graphics could slow the company's volume sales of lower-end notebooks.

The bigger issues right now are perception and AMD's ability to take advantage of the delay to show that the Puma platform is a viable alternative to Centrino.

"We believe this is a positive for AMD's Puma notebook chip set launch [scheduled to start shipping in 2Q], as OEMs may promote those platforms harder," Freedman wrote. "We believe that discrete graphics [Nvidia] and AMD/ATI could benefit as the integrated graphics issues may increase incentives to double-attach the Montevina platform, even for the lower-end systems."