What is Centrino?

In early March 2003, Intel announced the arrival of a new brand name, the "Centrino". The concept is a thin, lightweight, cool, quiet laptop with long battery life that also uses wireless technology so you can connect to the Internet or other computers in your home, office, or any of the rapidly growing number of public "hot spots" like coffee shops, hotels, airports, universities, libraries, and other convenient places.

However Centrino is not a processor. Rather in order for a laptop computer to be called "Centrino", it required the new Pentium M processor, an Intel 855 chipset, and an Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 (802.11b) or Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG (802.11b/g) network card.

The Pentium M processor is the most important of the three, and it has been much-anticipated by those who value battery life over raw performance. It uses 25 watts at full maximum, compared to the more than 100W a Pentium 4 3.4GHz Hyper-Threading processor uses. This allows laptops to be smaller and lighter because the cooling system requirements are much lower, and it dramatically improves battery life.

Because increasing the processor GHz also increases the power used, Intel created a more efficient design with the Pentium M. The Pentium M is set to slow down to 600MHz when at idle (where it will consume only 6W), and then just like using a gas pedal it will accelerate to its rated speed when you ask it to do more than just simple typing. This also greatly improves battery life without losing any of its impressive speed.

Then, with the introduction of the new "Dothan" version of the Pentium M, the L2 On-die cache is now Two to Four times that of a Pentium 4 (2,048k as opposed to 512k or 1,024k used in the Pentium 4, The new Intel Pentium 4 6xx series of processors finally have 2,048k, but the Pentium M processor will still outperform it, GHz for GHz).

With its efficient architecture, and the extended L2 On-die cache, the performance of a Pentium M is roughly 1.7 to over 2 times that of a Pentium 4 5xx series processor, and 1.4 to 1.6 times that of a Pentium 4 6xx series processor. L2 On-die cache is where the processor stores the instruction sets that it uses most often. Just picture two carpenters each up on their own ladder. They both have tool belts on...but one of them has a tool box on his paint bucket shelf as well. Now, they both charge the same amount per hour. Which one are you going to hire?

The second requirement for the Centrino name was that the laptop must include the Intel 855 chipset. The Intel 855 chipset is the second most important requirement of the three and is a very low power chipset that does a great job of only running the portions of the chip necessary to perform the tasks asked of it at any given time.

The third requirement necessary to allow a laptop to be called "Centrino" is that it uses one of the Intel PRO/Wirless cards.

Then, in January 2005 Intel introduced the new Intel 915 chipset called "Alviso" and "Sonoma" processor. The new "Sonoma" processor has a 533MHz Front Side Bus Speed (FSB) instead of the old 400MHz FSB that the Intel 855 chipset supported. The other major improvements that the Alviso/Sonoma platform offers are:

- PCI Express plus Intel GMA900 integrated graphics in the 915GM version. The new Intel GMA900 integrated graphics has equaled or surpassed dedicated graphics chips below the Radeon 9600. Gamers or other 3D users will still likely want the latest discrete video cards like the nVIDIA GeForce Go 6xxx series and the ATI X600, X700 and X800. These are supported by the Intel 915PM version.
- Dual channel DDR2/533 support instead of the old DDR1/333 single channel memory (ODM discretion)
- 7.1 "High Definition" audio (ODM discretion)
- Serial ATA support (ODM discretion)
- 8 USB2 ports (ODM discretion)
- 802.11a/b/g (ODM discretion)

So, while not losing any significant power to the Pentium 4 processors you get the benefit of a thin, lightweight, cool, quiet Centrino laptop with long battery life.

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