Intel Targets Corporate Laptops With Centrino Pro

The latest version of the processor chipset package includes the addition of 802.11n, as well as Intel's vPro and Active Management Technology.
Intel on Wednesday launched its Centrino Pro mobile processor and chipset, which adds corporate-level, remote-management capabilities to notebooks.

Intel also unveiled at a media event in San Francisco its Centrino Duo processor for entertainment-focused consumer notebooks. The Centrino Duo chipset provides smoother playback of video.

But the addition of Intel's vPro technology in Centrino Pro, which targets corporate notebooks, is the most important enhancement for businesses. The firmware includes what the company calls Active Management Technology that enables IT staff to take control of a problem notebook, even when the PC's Windows operating system is down.

VPro had previously only been available in Core 2 Duo chipsets for desktops, leaving Intel with a major gap in its business product line. Notebooks, which analysts say are selling at a far faster rate than desktops, are expected to surpass the latter in annual shipments within two to three years.

"When they came out with vPro, they only gave us a piece of the technology," said Jim McGregor, analyst for In-Stat. "The mobile side is the rest of it, and the most important."

On the processor side, Centrino Pro is less exciting. Formerly codenamed Santa Rosa, the processor package is built on Intel's 65 nanometer process Core 2 Duo product released last year. The company plans to ship a 45nm chip, codenamed Penryn, later this year. The smaller manufacturing process is expected to deliver higher performing, more energy-efficient chips.

While Centrino Pro's management capabilities improve the technology's value to businesses, the new product doesn't contain the latest vPro technology, codenamed Weybridge, which is scheduled for release in the second half of the year for business desktops.

On the security side, if a virus was to disable a notebook's virus protection, vPro would automatically take the system off the corporate network and send a message to an IT department's management console. IT staff could then clean the notebook and bring it back online.

Other new features in the Centrino Pro chipset include support for 802.11n, the latest draft Wi-Fi standard capable of transmitting at 160 Mbps. That makes video delivery five times faster than previous versions of the original Centrino chipset, which was first introduced in 2003.

During a demonstration of wireless playback of high-definition video, however, the quality was the same as a notebook with a previous version of Centrino that supported the older 802.11a standard. No explanation for the error was given, but Mooly Eden, corporate VP and general manager at Intel, assured attendees at the San Francisco event that the new technology is a lot better. "You'll have to trust me," he said.

During a question-and-answer session following the launch, Eden said Intel is working with Clearwire and Sprint in experimenting with WiMax support in Centrino. WiMax is a wireless broadband standard designed to extend local Wi-Fi networks across greater distances.

Intel had been working with Nokia on supporting 3G cellular technology, but dropped the initiative. "The return on investment didn't justify the continuation of the project," Eden said. Intel expects to start manufacturing chipsets with WiMax technology in the second half of next year.

Several original device manufacturers and PC makers have already signed up to use Intel's new Centrino Pro processor package in the laptops and mobile devices they sell.

Driving mobile technology from Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices is the increasing demand for notebooks over desktops. Through 2011, mobile PCs are expected to post a compound annual growth rate of more than 16%, compared with less than 4% for desktops, according to IDC. If that pans out, mobile PCs would account for more than half of all client PCs worldwide in 2011.

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