Skip to main content

Centrino 2 Exposed: A Name Deserved?

Mobility Evolves

Living in a MacBook Air World

Intel isn’t used to playing second-fiddle on the mobility circuit. Back in 2003, Centrino was the bee’s knees of notebook computing, combining the Pentium M processor (Banias), Intel’s 855-series chipset (sporting DDR-266 memory) and the PRO/Wireless 2100B wireless card (limited to 802.11b speeds of 11 Mb/s). But while the hardware inside its platforms has evolved steadily, an Intel whitebook laptop is still, for the most part, the same as it ever was. Battery-life, weight and screen size — it’s more of the same, and road warriors just don’t seem to be as fixated on the Centrino message.

Of course, Centrino doesn’t look any sexier next to Apple’s MacBook Air, which incorporates a 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, an 80 GB hard drive, wireless draft-n support and Intel’s GMA X3100 integrated graphics core. Those specifications aren’t even very impressive compared to the existing “Santa Rosa” Centrino platform. But because Apple is able to finesse that hardware into a package less than an inch thick, its MacBook Air is more of an attention-getter.

Apple’s success is hardly bad news to Intel, which supplies much of the notebook’s internals. However, with a price tag starting at $1,800, the ultra-portable Air is hardly what we’d call a back-to-school special. The door is wide open for Intel’s partners to both outperform the Mac and add a lot more value.

Don’t forget about AMD, either. The newly-christened platform proponent launched its latest mobile initiative called “Puma” at this year’s Computex in Taipei, Taiwan. Comprised of a mobile processor design dubbed “Griffin,” the RS780M chipset, the same integrated graphics core found in AMD’s 780G desktop core logic and wireless networking controllers from any of a handful of IHV partners, Puma’s imitation of Centrino should be sincerely flattering for Intel.

Although AMD faces an uphill battle trying to usurp such an established mobile brand, Puma has strengths where Intel continues to demonstrate weakness. For instance, the RS780M chipset with its Radeon HD 3200-class graphics should be a vastly superior performer versus Intel’s GMA X3100, which incidentally only recently started supporting DirectX 10 software through a driver update. Moreover, the ability to switch between discrete graphics and integrated graphics could prove to be a major boon in optimizing battery life.

Not So Fast

Intel isn’t going to let Puma steal its thunder, though. Nor will a lack of innovation allow Intel’s own branded platform to be eclipsed by the MacBook Air. Rather, the company is putting finishing touches on the first true sequel to its Centrino initiative (never mind the fact that this is a fifth-generation revision) aptly named Centrino 2.

Given the subtle changes made to each iteration of Centrino up until now, we hope that Centrino 2 is more Star Wars Episode V and less Jurassic Park: The Lost World (what a horrible sequel that was).

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.