Wednesday: 04.February.2004

Centrino-based Notebook / Laptop computers

I'm researching notebook computers, and the new technologies they offer, such as Intel's Centrino, which debuted last March. This mobile technology claims to use less power, while integrating wireless networking. Official Intel press release is posted here.

Things get confusing when you consider that the highly-coveted Pentium M processor (note the *absence* of the number 4), which sits as the centerpiece of the Centrino technology, max'es out at 1.7-GHz, and contains a 1-MB L2 cache, is NOT THE SAME as the (older, less-coveted) Pentium 4-M chip (note the *presence* of the number '4' there), which max'es out at 2.6-GHz & contains only 512-KB cache .. which is still different from the regular Pentium 4 chip, which is designed for desktop computers (max'es out at 3.2-GHz). Easy to confuse them (thanks to Intel's naming scheme), but they are all very different animals.

I was surprised to learn that the performance of these different chips do NOT compare on a 1:1 basis. For example, the 1.7-Ghz M chip is slightly *faster* than the 2.6-GHz 4-M chip .. or so says benchmarks offered by Intel. Review of the P-M is posted here.

If you are not confused yet, consider that Intel will release its next-generation 'M' chip, called Dothan, in May. It will come with *twice* the L2 cache, and be based on a smaller manufacturing process (90-namometer). Current chips use a 130-nm manufacturing process. Smaller is better. More Dothan info posted here.

continued

I was also surprised to learn that the Centrino technology contains an out-dated wireless networking standard: 802.11b, which is limited to 11-Mbps. So, if you get a Centrino-based laptop, you would want to get an add-on card that supports the next-generation (backwards-compatible) 802.11g protocol, which supports speeds up to 54-Mbps (5 times faster). Centrino-based notebooks which support the new 'g' standard are coming, but aren't expected to arrive for a few more months. There is also an "a" protocol, but it is not very popular.

I'm looking at the Inspiron line of notebooks from Dell, and the (gorgeous-yet-overpriced) ThinkPads from IBM. While I'm doing that, you may want to see where the wireless "hotspots" are located in your country, in your state, and even in your city (California). Hotspots allow you to sit down, order up a double-cappuccino, turn-on your notebook, and instantly connect to the Internet (wirelessly) at blazingly fast speeds. Now, how cool is that!

A special thanks to the guys at the Storage Review for helping me with this.





Posted by Rad at February 4, 2004 10:24 AM

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The Pentium-M uses a different chipset from the 4-M.

The M uses the new 855 chipset, while the older 4-M uses the older 845.

855

845

Posted by: Zero at February 4, 2004 06:14 PM

iPass is the msot popular wireless provider in the US. Expect to pay around $5 monthly fee + $3/hr usage fee, such as i2Roam.

Others charge usage fees only, but are higher per minute, such as EZM

Posted by: Sheldon at February 4, 2004 07:03 PM

I consider the manufacturing process to be THE number one factor determining processor quality, which is why the Dothan, with its 90-nm process, will be a radically better chip.

Posted by: andy_grove at February 5, 2004 08:09 AM

I don't think it's accurate to say that 802.11b is out-dated. It's not the faster, but most places that offer wireless services still use it. I have found few places will the new 'g' protocol.

Posted by: el_capitan at February 5, 2004 08:18 AM

One little-mentioned change Centrino has brought to the world of notebook computers is battery life. Before Centrino, only the Fujitsu P2xxx model with TWO batteries was able to last 8 hours or more of non-fuel-consuming usage. I bought a P2120 a week or so before Centrino launched (in a deal difficult to resist), and it works fine. It uses a Crusoe 933MHz CPU (in PR rating speech it is effectively "0600-minus"), but if you ask me now what my next notebook will be, it's going to a Centrino -- probably a P5xxx with Dothan (ULV) and at least 802.11g. ;)

Posted by: Jerome Chiu at February 8, 2004 11:41 AM

After reading up on the technology that's what I'm going to do myself: Dothan chip + g wireless protocol. Although it won't likely be ready until summer, since it's always difficult to shrink the manufacturing process.

Posted by: Stan Betts at February 8, 2004 12:43 PM

Agreed. Intel's naming system isn't exactly easy to follow.

Centrino is really just a marketing term - an Intel Pentium M cpu + an Intel wireless card. Companies cannot use the name "Centrino" without getting both of these from Intel. I'm sure there are loopholes - Dell offers Pentium M cpus with Dell wireless cards (802.11g instead of just 802.11b)

If you do a little bit of digging, you'll read that a Pentium M is based on the good old Pentium 3 chip, not a P4 chip. Thus clock for clock, it is MUCH faster.

BTW, do YOU have a net connection faster that 11 Mbps? =)

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