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Next Generation Centrino : Sonoma
By Justin Ong
Category : Notebooks/Laptops
Published by Jimmy Tang on Wednesday, 19th January, 2005


Evolution Of Intel's Centrino Mobile Technology

In Q1 2003, notebooks took a major leap forward not only in the area of performance, but also other important areas such as battery life, size, weight and wireless connectivity. The propulsion that enabled all this was none other than Intel's Centrino Mobile Technology. Propagating their vision of how notebooks should be, Intel unleashed its Centrino model to the world in a timely fashion with huge promises of better performance, battery life and portability for notebooks bearing their Centrino badge as opposed to existing notebooks then. If you are not already familiar, the first incarnation of the Intel Centrino Mobile Technology consisted of the now famous trio of the Intel Pentium M processor, the Intel 855 platform chipset and the Intel PRO/Wireless Network Connection. With the right blend of components, Intel's aggressive marketing, development and infrastructure support for this platform, the chip giant convincingly won over the support of the industry, consumers and skeptics in a relatively short timeframe. In fact, it was so successful that many manufacturers were seen rolling out Centrino notebooks almost exclusively.


The gem of the Intel Centrino Mobile Technology has got to be the Pentium M processor, which attributed much of the initial success of this platform. Sporting a much shorter pipeline architecture as compared to the Pentium 4 processors, Micro-Ops fusion, Advance Branch Prediction and a massive L2 cache, it was the first processor to be designed ground up specifically targeting the mobile market. This was quite a departure from the company's usual practice of modifying its desktop processors for use in notebooks. Although the Pentium 4 processor did play a part in producing notebooks that were very powerful, battery life and size were unfortunately unimpressive and unappealing to notebook users. The Pentium M however, was designed to factor in the usage patterns of notebook users and thus benefited much in terms of advanced power savings and the ability to get work done as efficiently as possible.

As impressive as the first Pentium M (codenamed Banias) was in addressing the fundamental issues of notebooks upon its release, its 130nm manufacturing process meant it had a clock speed ceiling of just 1.7GHz. To keep pace with the demands of consumers, Intel needed to come up with a processor that had a greater clock speed envelope to keep its Centrino momentum going strong. Hence in May 2004, that was realized in the form of a new Pentium M processor codenamed 'Dothan'.

Exploiting the new 90nm manufacturing process, the 'Dothan' Pentium M line of processors are not only capable of delivering clock speeds well beyond the 1.7GHz boundary of its predecessor, but were also endowed with a larger 2MB L2 cache (up from 1MB on the Banias). The additional 1MB was a great asset in boosting the overall performance in many applications. While the processing side of the Centrino has undergone a major facelift, the other subsystems of the notebook were dated as opposed to the desktop machines that were then adopting newer technologies (such as PCI Express and DDR2) and running on a much faster front side bus.


The Sonoma Arrives

To address this generation gap between the notebooks and that of the latest desktop platforms, Intel today officially launched a new Centrino platform that was codenamed 'Sonoma'. This spanking platform is a complete overhaul of the existing Centrino model and is centered on the new mobile 915 chipset (which is a mobile variant of the 'Grantsdale' 915P Express desktop chipset). The new platform will come with a few major enhancements, which includes PCI Express interconnect technology, DDR2 memory, Intel High Definition Audio (also codenamed Azalia) and SATA.

So in a relatively short timeframe of less than two years, we have witnessed the launch of the first generation Centrino, followed by a 'brain' surgery in the form of a processor update and now at long last, the much talked about platform overhaul is finally here. In this article, we'll show you exactly what to expect out of the new Centrino, how it compares with its predecessor, the benefits of investing in this updated platform and whether you should consider ditching your old Centrino notebook. Read on as we unravel the Sonoma platform and showcase one of the first notebooks to land in our lab.

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