Sonoma Breathes New Life Into Laptops

Intel's Centrino follow-up improves the mobile experience, but AMD readies a 64-bit challenger.

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.