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Intel on Wednesday will announce a significant evolutionary update to its successful Centrino mobile computing platform.

The new platform, currently code-named “Sonoma,” will provide a wealth of new features to home and corporate users, including a faster front-side bus, which moves to 533 MHz; support for Serial ATA; high-definition audio; improved graphics acceleration; faster memory and improved wireless communications, including support for 802.11a, 11b and 11g. The new version of the Dothan Pentium M processor will run at 2.13 GHz.

“We’re getting rid of bottlenecks at the system level,” said Karen Regis, marketing programs manager of the mobile platforms group at Intel Corp. “We’re trying to deliver a quality experience to the user,” she said.

According to Regis, each of the individual improvements taken alone isn’t huge, but together they add up to an important advance in mobile computing. “We’re revving up the Alviso chip set,” she said, explaining that integrated graphics will be about twice as fast as with the present version of the Centrino, but will require no added power.

She said that in addition to the new dual-channel DDR (double-data-rate) memory support, the new platform will support PCI Express for high-end external video, double the bandwidth between the memory and I/O controllers and the faster FSB.

“When you go to integrated graphics with the 915GM chip set, you have the same power requirements and battery life, but double the performance,” Regis said.

Read more here about Intel’s development of its Sonoma platform.

Intel has added an important series of features for wireless users, Regis added, including built-in support for Cisco-compatible extensions for WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), ensuring a secure wireless connection.

“IT can have confidence in data security over the wireless network,” she said. Other security features are being added as well, including support for the “Execute Disable” feature, which prevents a virus or worm from running in memory if that feature is supported by the operating system.

“This closes the performance gap between desktops and notebooks,” said Meta Group vice president Steve Kleynhans. “It does this without sacrificing the power-management benefits we’ve come to expect from Centrino,” he said. “With this new version, it makes the mobile story, particularly the Centrino mobile story, more powerful for a broader range of consumers.”

But Kleynhans said some of the features may take a while to show up in actual use. “Serial ATA support is probably pretty minor,” he said, “One would have to questions whether today, given the relative slowness of disk drives in notebooks, whether this is a big deal.” He noted that it could become a big deal in two or three years, when companies begin providing disk drives that make use of the capability.

“You’re going to see Intel play up the consumer aspects,” Kleynhans said, pointing to the ability to play video games, video and sound better without having an adverse impact on battery life.

Regis, however, points out that the new platform has some real benefits for IT departments and business users. “This is the next generation of our stable image platform,” she said.

The stable image platform means that IT departments can plan on a stable environment that won’t require new drivers for up to 18 months. She said that even if Intel has to update a chip, a driver change won’t be required. “They won’t have a lot of different images to manage,” she said.

Regis noted that there are 70 new mobile devices planned for this year so far, and 156 designs on track for delivery in 2005. “Virtually every OEM will have a Sonoma notebook in Q1,” she said. Most of the designs so far are in what Regis called the “thin and light category” favored by business users. Many of those new products are expected to be announced at or near the same time as the new Centrino platform.

Intel spokeswoman Barbara Grimes said Intel’s Centrino platform is the model for all of Intel following this week’s reorganization. “Centrino has been a real success from a leadership standpoint for Intel,” she said. “Centrino is becoming the model for the company.”

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