by August 11, 2003 0 comments

One of the main advantages of Wi-Fi is user mobility. You could be anywhere in an office and yet always be connected. As more Wi-Fi hot spots spring up, you could even be anywhere outside, say at the airport, in your car, or at the coffee shop, and still be connected. That’s why most laptop manufacturers are increasingly adding wireless cards with their new models.

However, this alone is not sufficient for the proliferation of Wi-Fi. For instance, most laptops have a battery backup time of around 2 hours, so you would invariably look for an
AC mains plug point whenever you’re using it. 

Most laptops are still bulky and difficult to lug around everywhere. These are some of the issues that the new Intel Centrino initiative aims to address. It aims to make laptops thinner, lighter and Wi-Fi enabled with long battery life. This is achieved by using a new processor, namely the Pentium M along with
a new chipset (855), and an Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 802.11b
Mini PCI card.

The Pentium M processor has been built ground up for notebooks, unlike older mobile processors like Pentium 4M that were essentially modified editions of their desktop counterparts. The processor has been designed to give equal premium to Microwatts and Megahertz. It’s available in 1.3, 1.5, 1.6 and 1.7 GHz versions for Notebooks and a 900 MHz ultra-low power processor for Tablet PCs. Though their clock speeds are lower than desktop processors, they give higher Instructions per Cycle. This ensures that a 1.6 GHz Pentium M delivers
performance comparable to a 2.4 GHz Pentium 4. 

Besides this, the processors have 1 MB power-optimized L2 cache, 6 step CPU controlled SpeedStep, better Branch Prediction, Micro-Op fusion and a dedicated Stack Manager. All these are designed to increase battery life of a laptop. The 855 chipsets uses less than half the power of an 845 chipset, and is available with onboard graphics (855PM) and with 4x AGP discrete graphics card (855GM). 

We checked whether this technology actually delivers upon its promise, and found that the battery life can increase quite a bit.

The IBM T-40 that we reviewed for instance crossed the five-hour mark in battery life. Lower power consumption leads to fewer fans, which can help reduce the notebook’s weight by a kg and make it thinner by an inch. We checked out three Centrino based laptops, and all of them were indeed quite thin and light. 

Performance is also pretty good. We tested a 1.6 GHz Pentium M on a Samsung Centrino-based notebook. It performed comparably to a 2.2 GHz Pentium 4 in Business Winstone 2001, the benchmark for regular productivity apps. In Content Creation Winstone 2001, it performed 10% better. It was at par in other tests as well. 

Centrinos have in built Wi-Fi cards and internal Wi-Fi antennas that ensure you’ll never be too far from Googling on the Net. The Wi-Fi card also has support for security features like WEP and WPA (See Wi-Fi Security on page 24). Intel plans to launch a worldwide campaign branding public hotspots compatible with the Centrino after testing. The next time you go to a coffee shop, it might very well sport a Centrino-enabled label.

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