San Francisco (CA) - Intel today announced its latest Centrino platform - which oddly named Centrino 2, not just because it really is the fifth generation (and should be called Centrino 5), but also because its brains, the Core 2 Duo processor is just a refresh and may not have justified the new name by itself. That aside, the new platform offers more processing, graphics and wireless performance, while consuming less power, the company promises. Any questions?
A few days ago, a PR representative of a big hardware manufacturer called me and shelled me with questions why we haven’t written that much about Centrino 2, previously code-named Montevina, in the past few weeks. It was an unusual call, but somewhat understandable since we have dedicated quite a bit of space to processor launches in recent years and this time we did not. Centrino 2 is different.
Besides the shiny new name, there is very little that is truly new about the platform, which consists of a refreshed 45 nm Penryn CPU, a new integrated graphics chipset and a wireless chipset. While the platform is new, the processor architecture is not. What we are really waiting for is the new Nehalem architecture scheduled for a Q4 release. If you have just purchased a Penryn notebook, there is no reason to get excited about Montevina. If you really need a notebook now, then it certainly is a solid platform. But if you can afford to wait, then hold off buying a new notebook until Nehalem chips become available in Q4 or early in Q1.
So, what is new in Centrino 2? Well, first off, there are new processors. Intel has six new processors - two 8000 series (3 MB L2 cache) chips with 2.26 GHz (P8400) and 2.4 GHz (P8600), three 9000 series CPUs (6 MB L2 cache) with 2.53 GHz (P9500 and T9400) and 2.8 GHz (T9600). The P-series marks chips that are rated at a 25 watt TDP while the T-series marks chips with a 35 watt TDP. The new flagship model is the X9100 Extreme model with a 3.06 GHz clock speed and a 44 watt TDP - this processor was widely believed to have been used by Apple in its latest iMac introduced earlier this year (Intel however claimed that the iMac CPU has a 55 watt TDP). Intel said that it will add a mobile 45 watt quad-core version of the Penryn processor later this quarter.
Prices are in line with previous product launches, but there is no denying that the high-end has been moving higher. The entry-level P8400 has a tray-price of $209 and the T9600 checks in at $530. The X9100 is priced at $851.
New chipset, new graphics
Montevina comes with a new 45-series chipset that, in its IGC version, promises users enough power to playback Blu-ray movies and enable notebooks to playback an entire Blu-ray movie on one (full) battery charge. Overall 3D mark 06 performance is up 70% over the previous version.
Much more interesting, however, is the introduction of Intel switchable graphics - a technology that can switch between discrete and integrated graphics on the fly. This means that even multi-GPU graphics won’t be draining your battery anymore, if you need the battery power instead of GPU performance - simply switch to integrated graphics and the system will run much more efficiently. The technology works with AMD/ATI and Nvidia graphics.
New wireless chipset, WiMax (almost) and ... Turbo Memory!
Complementing Montevina is the new 5000-series wireless chipsets, which comes in two form factors - as 5300 version for regular notebook sizes as well as a smaller 5100 version for compact notebooks. Montevina will also support WiMax within the 5000-series WiFi/WiMax chipsets - as soon as the network is being rolled out (which will be the case this September.)
And no, Turbo Memory isn’t dead yet. Despite its very limited success and AMD’s decision to shelve its competitive solution completely, Intel continues to offer Turbo Memory as flash cache to manufacturers. A 2 GB module is priced between $27 and $30, depending on the version.
Montevina is an evolutionary step for Centrino and it even Intel’s best presenter, corporate vice president Mooly Eden, had a tough time on stage to create excitement for his latest baby. Is the new technology worth the new name? I will leave that up to you to decide.
What will be much more important is whether Intel has been able to deliver enough Centrino 2s for the back-to-school season and how well it can compete against AMD’s Puma platform, which we hear was off to a great start. In terms of processor performance, Intel has still the lead over AMD; but Intel will have to accelerate its discrete graphics efforts to counter AMD’s discrete graphics offering for Puma: AMD’s balanced platform approach is beginning to make sense and Intel will have to react sooner or later.