Fellow blogger David Berlind has been on a crusade to add a little truth-in-advertising to the Centrino marketing campaign and I've been following it over the years. Centrino is a massive marketing campaign to make wireless LAN synonymous with Centrino when in reality it just isn't so. I personally don't have a problem with any vendor hyping their wares so long as it's within reasonable bounds. When they flat out lie about their performance or make absurd claims, I've gone out of my way to slam them on it. Intel's Centrino campaign isn't what I would consider false advertising, but falls squarely in to the mega-hype area.
Centrino is defined as a set of products from Intel that must be included in any notebook for it to contain the Centrino logo. The primary components that make up Centrino is the Pentium M CPU and Intel's wireless LAN chipset. As far as I'm concerned, Intel can define Centrino anyway they like because it's their trademark and their advertising dollar, but no one has to drink the kool-aid if they educate themselves. Users just need to be aware of the hype and, for the most part, they are. Centrino gives you the baseline in 802.11 functionality but there are more robust solutions available. In the past, I have usually avoided Centrino wireless in favor of Atheros- or even Broadcom-based solutions because Centrino lagged behind in providing dual-band operation. For the longest time, Centrino only supported 802.11b while other vendors like Broadcom supported 802.11b and the faster 802.11g. Then Atheros came out and blitzed the 802.11 a/b/g dual-band market while Intel Centrino was only beginning to offer 802.11 b/g. Only recently did Intel Centrino catch up in offering dual-band a/b/g operation.
Currently, the Centrino-based 802.11 a/b/g dual-band miniPCI board costs a mere $32 on the open market and offers an extremely good value. Dell charges a mere $19 to add the same board to one of their notebooks when you order it online. Not only is the price extremely attractive, but Intel provides full WPA2 drivers and supplicants on all Centrino products going back to the original 802.11b Centrino solution and that should be applauded. The range and throughput on Centrino wireless solutions is average, but it's no match for newer wireless LAN technologies like Airgo's True MIMO or their upcoming True AG solutions. This leaves the Centrino a/b/g solution in the value segment, leaving plenty of room for high-end competitors.
On the CPU front, the Centrino Pentium M CPU is the future of Intel's x86 strategy for mobile, desktop, and server solutions. A Pentium M unleashed at 2.56 GHz killed the best desktop processors from AMD and Intel while humming along at a cool 27 watts which is 5 to 10 times less power consumption than the desktop AMD and Intel chips. The fact that it uses so little power makes it the ideal candidate for Intel's multi-core strategy. Although 2.56 GHz is not a production speed, the fact that it easily over clocks to 2.56 GHz with conventional cooling shows the scalability and potential of the chip. The new mobile "Turion" chips from AMD are starting to close the gap on power consumption, but still averages about double the power consumption of Intel's Centrino line. Performance wise, the Turion comes close but doesn't quite flat out beat the Pentium M. The Turion does have the 64-bit advantage, but there really isn't a single consumer application yet that takes advantage of 64 bit and it will be some time before that happens. Apple will be using the Pentium M for many of their products starting next year because the current Apple G4 notebooks aren't even in the same performance league.
If I had to grade Intel's Centrino, I would break it down to the following.
|CPU power consumption||A|
|Wireless throughput and range||C|
Editor's note: There are some things unclear in this blog that is explained in this follow-up blog.