Intel's Sonoma launch promises to outpace Centrino

Anand Chandrasekher has a new haircut. The vice president and general manager of Intel Corp.'s Mobile Platforms Group last month shaved off all his hair, the result of a bet made with his sales team.

The deal was that if Intel's sales team exceeded their targets for Centrino sales he would shave his head. They met the challenge and, true to his word, Chandrasekher paid a visit to his barber.

As Chandrasekher's new look demonstrates, demand has been strong for Centrino -- which bundles a Pentium M processor with a chipset and a WLAN (wireless LAN) chipset -- since it was introduced in March 2003. And Intel expects the launch of its next-generation Centrino platform, known by the codename Sonoma, to build upon this success.

"I'm expecting more (notebook PC) designs will get launched with Sonoma than we saw with the first Centrino platform," Chandrasekher said, adding that more than 50 Sonoma-based laptop designs will be ready to ship when the technology is launched during the second half of this year.

"That's a great sign of acceptance," he said.

Sonoma differs from the current Centrino platform in several areas. For starters, it's based on an updated Pentium M processor, codenamed Dothan, that's made using a 90-nanometer process rather than the 130-nanometer process used to manufacture existing Pentium M chips. A more advanced process technology allows chips to be made that cost less and can offer greater performance while consuming less power.

Dothan, which will start to ship during the current quarter, offers 2M bytes of on-chip cache and supports a faster 533MHz front-side bus, which connects the chipset with the processor. Dothan will also consume the same amount of power as Intel's current Pentium M chips. The existing Pentium M chips, formerly known by the codename Banias, have 1M byte of on-chip cache and use a 400MHz front-side bus.

"You get the same great battery life that you're used to getting with Centrino but your performance goes up (with Dothan)," Chandrasekher said.

"The product looks very healthy and we're anticipating a very quick ramp," he said. Ramp is a term that describes the process of bringing a chip to production in high volumes.

But there's more to Sonoma than just an updated processor. It will also include an updated WLAN chipset, codenamed Calexico 2, which offers lower power consumption, an improved software interface and supports the 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networking standards.

Finally, Sonoma also includes an updated chipset, codenamed Alviso. The new chipset offers Intel's High Definition Audio technology, and includes an improved version of the company's Display Power Saving Technology, which further reduces the amount of power consumed by a notebook's display compared to Intel's current Pentium M chipsets.

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