Centrino is Born

Back in the world of the IBM-compatible portable, laptop technology was going though a period of quiet development and technological consolidation. Wireless had arrived, but was not widespread. Processors were getting faster, but no significant advances had been made in improving power efficiency for years.

Finally, Intel turned its full attention back to the laptop in the early Naughties, and not before time. With battery technology still lagging far behind processors, storage and screens, and the Internet taking over as the driving force behind computer sales, the laptop was in desperate need of a makeover.

The chip giant did not disappoint. As details of its Banias processor began to emerge, it became clear that this was to be a watershed moment for laptop processors. It started with Intel's SpeedStep initiative, which allowed its mobile processors to automatically adjust their core frequency, bus speed and voltage to a lower level when running on batteries or when running less processor-intensive applications.


A die shot of the orginal Banias Pentium M processor.


In 2003 Banias, or the Pentium M as it was to be named eventually, took this a stage further. It used the third generation of Intel's SpeedStep technology and was designed and built from scratch, combining elements of the Pentium 4 bus architecture with the execution core of the Pentium III, branch prediction technology and 1MB of level 2 cache.

The results were dramatic. Amazingly, the fastest Pentium M processors were as fast, and faster in some circumstances, as seemingly more powerful processors. Mobile Pentium 4 processors with much higher clock speeds struggled to keep up, though lack of support for Hyper-Threading meant it the Pentium M wasn't quite so good when it came to performing more predictable tasks such as audio and video encoding. And of course the power consumption of the new processors was much lower than the Pentium 4 equivalents. The TDP (thermal design power) of the first-generation 1.6GHz Pentium M was 24.5W compared to the 2.4GHz Pentium 4 TDP of 59.8W.

For the very first time, laptop owners had a processor able to perform at a similar level to its desktop counterparts, but without producing huge amounts of heat or draining the battery in a matter of minutes. It was so impressive that some motherboard manufacturers built units designed to incorporate the new mobile processor into super-quiet and efficient desktop machines.


The core components of the original Centrino specification: the Pentium M CPU, 855 mobile chipset and 802.11b wireless adapter.


That wasn't all. Not satisfied with rewriting the book on mobile processors, Intel went one step further and wrapped it all up in its groundbreaking Centrino (originally codenamed Carmel) specification. Though many people confuse Centrino as one of Intel's processors, it actually encompasses more than that. Laptop manufacturers who wanted the Centrino sticker on their machines and boxes (and thus piggybacking on the huge Intel ad campaign of the time) had to base their systems on three Intel products: the Pentium M processor, the 855 mobile chipset and the Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 (or later) 802.11b mini-PCI Wi-Fi adapter.

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