Intel's '06 resolution: improve notebooks, home PCs

Intel is getting ready to launch a new notebook processor and a specification for entertainment PCs in January.

Intel is getting ready to launch two major products that will combine the most visible piece of the company's evolving platform strategy, its Centrino mobile brand, with the company's most ambitious effort yet at building the digital home.

Napa, the third generation of Intel's Centrino mobile technology, is almost ready for a formal unveiling in January. Likewise, Intel and its PC partners plan to launch and heavily promote Viiv (rhymes with five) entertainment PCs starting the same month. Both products are expected to take centre stage in Intel's efforts at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during the first week of January.

Intel has already shared many details about Napa, which is the combination of the Yonah dual-core mobile processor, the Intel Mobile 945 chipset, and the Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG chip. But the company cited performance statistics for the first time Tuesday, revealing that Napa should outperform Sonoma, the current generation of Intel's mobile technology, by as much as 68 per cent based on internal tests, director of marketing with Intel's Mobile Platforms Group, Keith Kressin, said.

Intel also reduced the average power consumption of Napa-based notebooks by 28 per cent as compared to current Sonoma-based notebooks, he said.

In addition, Napa notebooks will have smarter wireless chips, Kressin said.

For example, Napa notebooks will attempt to find the local wireless connection with the most available bandwidth, instead of seeking out the access point with the strongest signal.

The access point with more bandwidth will give the user a faster network experience than would the one with the strongest signal, which might be overloaded with users.

Intel wouldn't have trouble finding partners or customers for Napa-based notebooks, with more than 230 designs already planned by notebook makers around the world, Kressin said. But its Viiv strategy could face a tougher road as the worlds of consumer electronics, PCs, and digital content collide in the living room.

Viiv is modeled on the Centrino platform strategy, in which Intel sells its PC partners a combination of chips and then helps them promote the brand with a blanket advertising campaign. To get the marketing help, the PC vendors have to use all the Intel-specified components of the platform, which in this case includes a dual-core Intel processor, one of several multimedia chipsets, a Gigabit Ethernet networking chip, Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, and several other components designed to deliver high-definition audio and instant on-off capabilities to Viiv PCs.

Intel planned to certify devices and applications that had been designed with Viiv in mind, trying to make it easier for consumers to set up home media networks, Intel Viiv technology program manager, Merlin Kister, said.

The company has already certified dozens of applications and services from companies such as Movielink and British Sky Broadcasting within the Viiv program, and more are expected during 2006.

Delivering an easy-to-use experience with Viiv was crucial to Intel's success in the living room, Kister said.

Of equal importance was Intel's high-wire balancing act of assuring content providers that consumers wouldn't be able to freely share copyright wares with the world, while convincing consumers that they would still have the right to shift movies and music among devices and burn copies as backups, director of digital home brand management in Intel's sales and marketing division, Charlotte Lamprecht, said.

To date, major content providers have been hesitant to embrace Intel and Microsoft's fledgling attempts at building a PC-based digital living room with premium content available over the Internet.

Over the next year, however, several content providers that had been holding back on the digital market would make announcements related to making digital content available for downloading, senior vice-president and general manager of Intel's sales and marketing group, Eric Kim, said.

New Intel partner, Apple Computer, has had more success in this area, signing deals with US television networks, ABC and NBC, to make popular television shows available on the iTunes online store.

Intel would also look at convincing cable and satellite providers to accept Viiv PCs as a delivery method for their content, Kister said.

Viiv PCs would be able to receive content from set-top boxes that currently accept cable and satellite television feeds, but early versions wouldnot have ports that could directly accommodate the protected digital stream of content from companies such as Comcast or The DirectTV Group, he said.

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