In my last blog on Centrino in response to David Berlind's blog, I weighed in on the issue of Centrino branding. After further discussions with David Berlind, I realized that I may have been a bit unclear about some things and misused the word Centrino in the context of a product rather than a brand. This blog will hopefully clear things up.
To make things perfectly clear, Intel's Centrino is not a product but a brand. It is a brand that notebook makers can earn when they use a set of components from Intel that qualify a notebook to bare the Centrino label. The key components are the Pentium M CPU and an Intel wireless LAN chipset. I made the mistake of telling readers that they can go out and buy a "Centrino" 802.11 a/b/g miniPCI board. What I should have said is that end users can go out and buy the "Intel PRO/Wireless 2915" 802.11 a/b/g miniPCI board. Although the 2915 wireless chipset is the identical chipset used in the Centrino brand, I can't technically call it Centrino because Centrino is a brand and not an individual product. I also referred to the "Centrino CPU" and that also is a no-no because Centrino is a brand and not a specific product. I should have just called it the Pentium M CPU and noted that it happens to be the same CPU used in Centrino branded notebooks.
Frankly, I couldn't care less about such semantics and most people will probably still go around using the word Centrino interchangeably with Pentium M. As a matter of fact, I've got a non-Dell notebook which still bares the Centrino logo even though I swapped out the original Intel 802.11b miniPCI adapter with a Dell branded Broadcom 802.11 a/b/g miniPCI adapter a year ago and I hope the branding police didn't hear that. I did this because Intel was lagging behind in offering a dual-band 802.11 a/b/g product at the time. Today's Intel PRO/Wireless 2915 does support dual-band operation and for some reason, the dual-band Intel 2915 adapter is more available than any other miniPCI card on the market and can be purchased at a rock bottom price whereas I haven't been able to find a cheaper Broadcom or Atheros based miniPCI card. To add to the confusion, Dell has actually been bundling their Dell branded Broadcom based miniPCI adapters with their new notebooks for a lower price than the Intel wireless chipset. But when you try to buy the cards individually, Dell sells the Intel 2915 board for $39 while they sell the Dell branded Broadcom based adapter for $49. I can only speculate that this may be a function of inventory because I could easily configure an Inspiron notebook with an Intel dual-band chipset two months ago yet it is nowhere to be seen today when you try to configure the same notebook.
To clarify my wireless security grading system, I rate anything with a WPA2 logo as an "A". Anything with a WPA logo gets a "C" for barely passing. Anything with WEP only support gets an "F" for failing to provide a product that patches a five year old vulnerability and should be avoided at all cost. I rated Centrino's wireless LAN security capability an "A" because Intel has put full blown WPA2 firmware, drivers, and supplicant in every single wireless LAN chipset that has been a part of the Centrino brand. That is to be commended because few other vendors have been this thorough to extend WPA2 support to their full line of products and it gives me confidence in Intel's future driver support. To be fair to other chipset makers, they also go back and add WPA2 support to their chipsets but it's the OEMs that sometimes fail to add WPA2 support to their older product line. I should also clarify that if you bought a notebook from Gateway, IBM, Dell or HP with a new Broadcom or Atheros wireless LAN chipset instead of the Intel wireless chipset, they also get an "A" because they also support WPA2. The only thing different here is that the notebook will be missing the Centrino logo because it's not using Intel's wireless chipset but I could care less. I personally like using the Atheros based chipsets because they provide great Linux "raw" support which I use to perform wireless security auditing (Note that "raw" capability can be used for good or evil). But if I needed to upgrade a large fleet of notebooks for regular users, the Intel 2915 wireless boards seem to be the cheapest with average range and throughput along with some of the best driver and firmware support. The only thing you don't get is the Centrino logo but it doesn't really matter since Centrino branded wireless doesn't really offer you anything you can't get elsewhere.