Intel is placing a good deal of emphasis on improving enterprise-class notebooks with the release of the company’s Centrino 2 platform.
When Intel introduced the platform at a July 14 event in San Francisco, the chip maker released two versions. The first version is called plainly Centrino 2 and is geared for consumer notebooks. The second version is called Intel Centrino 2 with vPro technology, which is the business version of the laptop platform.
While Intel added many of the same improvements to both the consumer and enterprise versions of Centrino, the new features are chiefly designed to win over enterprise buyers as they begin to look to upgrading or adding to their corporate notebook fleets. These improvements include smaller chips-the 45-nanometer Penryn processors-that use less power, and should allow laptops to run cooler and conserve battery life. The platform also includes 802.11n draft wireless technologies as a standard, which means better connectivity on the road and in the office.
The release of Centrino 2, along with the launch of Advanced Micro Devices’ Puma platform in June, are significant steps in the evolution of business computing-from the reliance on desktops-to the freedoms and difficulties that come with mobility. While Intel, AMD and their OEM partners have continued to make improvements, there are still obstacles to overcome.
“This is a bit of step forward, and I think it will encourage more adoption on the mobile side,” said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC. “The emphasis on mobility means that there has to be increases in performance and better battery life. In this case, you have two top players-Intel and AMD-that are each trying to keep one step ahead of the other. Intel, with its platform, is ahead of AMD in every metric, and AMD, to its credit, sees the value of a mobile platform and is trying to catch-up.”
The first, and arguably the most significant improvement with Centrino 2, is the use of Intel’s 45-nm processors from the Penryn family. Since these processors are smaller, the chips should use less power and allow Intel to shrink the overall size of the platform and boost performance. This would enable Intel to add features while giving PC vendors the flexibility to develop new form-factor designs that are lighter and generate less heat. At least three of the processors have thermal envelopes of 25 watts instead of the more traditional 35 watts associated with notebooks.
Intel also included technical features such as Dynamic Acceleration and Deep Power Down, which can turn off components such as the core clocks or cache memory.
Ultimately, Intel wants to create a mobile platform that offers eight hours of battery life; the new platform allows for notebooks to run on average between four and five hours, Shim said.
On the graphics side, which is becoming an increasing concern in both the consumer and business markets and shows the influence of both gamers and the Internet on computing, Intel is offering its own integrated graphics-the Intel GM45 Express Chipset-with expected availability in August, as well as its own PM45 discrete graphics chip set. The platform will also work with discrete graphics from ATI and Nvidia.
Intel also plans to include a new technology called switchable graphics, which will allow the laptop to switch from discrete to integrated graphics and should also help extend battery life. AMD offers a similar technology with its Puma platform called PowerXpress.
In terms of new management abilities, Intel is updating the capabilities of vPro with Centrino 2. vPro is a set of management, virtualization and security technologies that Intel builds into the silicon itself and allows IT managers to remotely monitor a fleet of corporate clients.
In this version of Intel vPro, the chip maker is giving IT managers the ability to wirelessly wake a notebook from sleep state even if the laptop is outside the corporate LAN. This allows the administrator to remotely patch or update the PC image and then turn the laptop back off or return to sleep mode. However, the laptop must be is plugged into an AC power outlet to do this.
Finally, Intel has integrated both Wi-Fi and WiMax capabilities into Centrino 2 with the goal of increasing mobility. While full-fledge WiMax networks are at least 18 months to two years away in the United States, Intel has made the 802.11n draft wireless technologies standard on the platform.
The draft n standard, under optimal conditions, can deliver a data rate of 248 M bits and distances up to 200 meters. This is five times the data rate offered by 802.11g wireless, which offers a data rate of 54 M bits. While Shim said Intel’s Centrino 2 platform will not make draft-n a universal standard just yet, the platform should increase demand for it and allow users to take advantage of a much larger and better wireless network. “It also means that people will expect this in their notebooks and come to demand it,” he added.