Intel's Pentium-M & Centrino for Providers

Introduction  Analysis  How To Get It  For More Reading


On March 12, 2003 Intel formally released a new line of products (Pentium-M and Mobile 855 chipset) and debuted a new brand name (Centrino). Centrino is a new strategic direction for Intel in several ways. For starters, Centrino is an umbrella brand - one that describes the combination of three products:

Centrino = Pentium-M + Intel 855 chipset + Intel 802.11b

In mainstream laptops where a combination of good battery life and high performance is desired, the Pentium-M is intended to replace the Mobile Pentium 4.

Along with the new Centrino brand comes a new logo, the usual Intel blue combined with magenta in the shape of an arrow, which Intel says is designed to convey "a feeling of speed, mobility, and streamlined technology".

Figure 1 - Pentium-M versus Mobile Pentium 4 

  Pentium-M Mobile Pentium 4
Current Clock Speeds 1.3 GHz to 1.6 GHz 1.4 GHz to 2.4 GHz
Level 2 Cache 1 MB 512 KB
System Bus 400 MHz 400 MHz
Intel Chipset Mobile 855 Mobile 845
Fabrication Process 0.13 micron 0.13 micron

Provider notes: there will be a 1.1 GHz low voltage (LV) version and a 900 MHz ultra low voltage (ULV) version of the Pentium-M available late this calendar year. These are designed to replace the Mobile Pentium III LV and Mobile Pentium III ULV chips currently resident in extremely small laptops.

Direct performance comparisons are tough because of variance in other components, but the graph below gives a general reflection of the approximate performance of Intel's various mainstream mobile chips.

Figure 2 - Approximate Relative Pentium-M & Mobile Pentium 4 Performance 


Note that Pentium-M chips are significantly higher in performance than Mobile Pentium 4 chips at any given clock speed. In this graph the 'Y' axis is a combination of high and low-level processor-oriented benchmarks.


All else being equal, the Pentium-M will reduce the form factor of Intel-based laptops, making them more portable and lightweight. Not only will the size of laptops be reduced, but the battery power that they consume for a given level of performance will also decrease significantly. Pentium-M chips will be starting out at clock speeds lower than the currently available speeds of Pentium 4 M chips, but the efficiency (especially with regard to battery life) will be greater.

Provider notes: it's unclear as to how much of the increase in power savings will be at the low level (Pentium-M, chipset, and BIOS) and how much will be at the high level (operating system and drivers). It seems reasonable to believe that, at least intially, Centrino and Pentium-M will operate best with Windows XP Professional, with Windows 2000 Professional and Linux next in line. The next major revision of Windows, code-named 'Longhorn', will probably be at least partially tuned for Pentium-M and Centrino.

Intel is taking a substantial risk by introducing a new brand name at a time when computer and technology purchasing isn't especially strong. In an effort to try and minimize the risk being taken by the new marketing strategy, Intel is spending roughly $300 million in funds distributed to companies that adopt the Centrino brand. However, laptop manufacturers have not been willing to adopt Centrino exclusively. Dell, IBM, HP, and Toshiba are all adopting Centrino for part but not all of their laptop product lines.

Provider notes: part of the branding confusion that crops up between Centrino and Pentium-M is because of a delay in Intel's release of an 802.11a-capable wireless card. This means that manufacturers that wish to offer 802.11a in a laptop can not brand that laptop as Centrino. One can assume that Intel's engineers are working hard to ready their 802.11a card for release later this year. It's also important to note that many institutions (including the University) are working hard on their 802.11b deployments and are not yet ready to consider 802.11a or 802.11g.

There is thought that Intel may certify some third-party Wi-Fi cards under the Centrino brand name. If they do this, it will certainly be after the Intel Wi-Fi cards are well entrenched in the market.

How To Get It

Dell plans to release Pentium-M laptops across their entire Latitude product line. Along with the movement to the new chip technology, Dell is also revising their enclosures and their removable drive module size - the first time in many years. For the initial round of releases, Dell has announced (from smallest to largest):

  • Latitude D600 - a complete revision of Dell's mid-weight desktop-equivalent laptop design with a new, thinner design. ISC has posted a University-centric review of the D600.
  • Latitude D800 - a complete revision of Dell's full size desktop-equivalent laptop design. The D800 has two spindles as opposed to it's predecessor's (the Latitude C840) three spindles. It's most notable feature (seen at right) is a 15.4 inch wide-screen - the first large wide-screen on an Intel-based laptop. This screen is available in two resolutions, WXGA (1280x800) and WUXGA+ (1920x1200) .

IBM plans to release Pentium-M laptops in their X, T, and R lines. For the initial round of releases, IBM has announced (from smallest to largest):

  • ThinkPad X31 - a modest revision of IBM's lightweight laptop design with improvements in the 'speeds and feeds'. The biggest upgrades from the previous, Pentium III-based ThinkPad X30 are significantly improved battery life along with more competitive speed.
  • ThinkPad T40 - a complete revision of IBM's mid-weight desktop-equivalent laptop with a new thinner, sleaker, and lighter design (seen at right) that weighs about half a pound less than the Mobile Pentium 4-based ThinkPad T30 did. ISC has posted a University-centric review of the T40.
  • Provider note: pricing comparisons between Pentium-M and Mobile Pentium 4 laptops are sometimes problematic, because Pentium-M laptops often contain other new, more expensive technology. Based on several comparisons between mainstream products from Dell and IBM, purchasers of Pentium-M laptops can expect to pay $50 to $100 more than they would pay for a Mobile Pentium 4 device with equivalent specifications.

For More Reading

PC Magazine, Centrino? Pentium-M? PC Labs Looks Beyond the Name Game

Tom's Hardware Guide, The First Pentium-M Notebook Put To The Test

CNet, Centrino: born to run

Intel's Centrino web site

The Computer Connection's web site

ISC's Laptop Computer Purchasing Guide

-- John Mulhern III, Nicholas Allen, Vern Yoneyama, & Robert Barron, ISC Technology Support Services (March 13, 2003)

Print This Page Share:
Date Posted: April 1, 2013 Tags: Technical Info, Provider Resource, Processor, Notebook

Was this information helpful?

Login with PennKey to view and post comments