Intel's Sonoma to launch next week

Intel plans to launch the second generation of its Centrino mobile processor platform on Jan. 19 the company confirmed Monday. The new platform, code-named Sonoma, will include a new version of Intel's Pentium M mobile processor, a new wireless chip, as well as a new chipset, which Intel says will have double the graphics performance of its current products.

Approximately 80 new notebook PCs based on the platform will begin shipping around the time of the launch, including products from Hewlett-Packard, Dell, IBM, and Toshiba, Intel said. The total number of Sonoma systems is expected to grow to about 150 by year's end, the company said.

At the heart of the platform will be a new generation of Intel's Pentium M processor, code-named Dothan, which will have slightly faster clock speeds ranging up to 2.13GHz, and as much as 2M bytes of on-chip memory. The fastest of these new processors, called the Pentium M 770, will be priced in the same range as Intel's current top-of-the-line 2.1GHz Pentium M 765, said sources familiar with Intel's plans.

All told, Intel plans to launch five new versions of Pentium M, as well as new low voltage and ultra low-voltage processors at the event, said Barbara Grimes an Intel spokeswoman.

The most interesting developments in Sonoma, however, relate to the platform's new "Alviso" chipset and its frontside bus architecture, which connects the chipset to the processor, Grimes said.

Alviso will have a 533MHz frontside bus, which means that the processor will be able to communicate with other components of the chipset much faster than it does in the current crop of 400MHz frontside bus systems.

Sonoma will support Intel's PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) Express standard and DDR 2 (Double Data Rate 2) memory for the first time, and will include a new wireless networking chipset, called the Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG network connection, which will support the 802.11a/b/g wireless standards, Grimes said.

Though the first generation of Centrino products were able to radically extend the battery life of notebook systems, the Sonoma line focuses on performance rather than power consumption, said Sam Bhavnani, senior analyst with Current Analysis. "With Sonoma, battery life remains the same," he said.

However, the new front-side bus and larger on-chip cache will give graphics performance a big boost with the new systems, he said. "You're going to start seeing a physical difference between a notebook that was released a year ago and notebooks that are released on the Sonoma platform."

Increasingly, Intel has been working to make the platform more appealing to consumers, Bhavnani said.

In addition to the better graphics performance, Sonoma systems will also include new wireless networking software, called Intel PRO/Set and new High Definition Audio technology, all of which were developed with the consumer market in mind, Intel's Grimes said. "People will be using this a lot more as a home entertainment device," she said. "You'll see a lot more diversity in the systems now."

Intel had originally hoped to launch Sonoma in 2004, but the announcement was delayed after the company experienced problems producing the chipset.

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