Intel smiles on Dothan

Painless as possible

The first iteration of the Centrino processor will continue to be manufactured and supported, Intel said at the launch of its speed-bumped successor Dothan in San Francisco today.

The company expects Banias to be phased out by early next year. However Intel has made the transition to Dothan as painless as possible: the three replacement processors are less power-hungry and a little faster than the current Banias range, while remaining pin compatible.

Dothan packs twice as many transistors into the package, thanks to the move to a 90 nanometer process. Intel's accountants will be happiest of all, however. Dothan will cost Intel less to manufacture because all of its chips will use 300 mm wafers, rather than 200 mm. Or as Anand Chandrasekhar, VP and general manager of Intel's mobile division put it modestly, "it will be very cost effective for us to make in large quantities." (For full speeds and prices of Dothan, see our comprehensive earlier report. "Son of Centrino", or Sonoma, will be launched in the second half of this year with support for a faster front-side bus and memory, an audio subsystem, and better I/O.)

But not everyone will be a Centrino user. Chandrasekhar predicted that it would be some time before the processor hit even half of Intel's notebook PC sales. That's because so many users prefer notebooks based on derivatives of the Mobile Pentium desktop processor. These machines are bulkier and much less power-efficient, but they're also cheap, and might accurately be described as luggables that rarely need to be untethered, in practice.

Not Yet Broken

Representatives of Big Box Retail helped corroborate the trend. A CompuUSA executive said that he saw Centrino sell through at around 20 per cent of notebook sales, although he expects that to be higher for the back-to-school season (30 to 35 per cent). Retailers like the shift from low margin desktops to higher margin notebooks and the opportunity to up-sell more mobility-related peripherals. Notebooks don't last as long and need more insurance, too: a fact that any shopper at CompUSA will wearily note - the upselling continues into Car Park. There are exceptions: one Intel staffer who must not be named told The Register, as we admired the resilience of IBM kit, that he was looking forward to a new Thinkpad, only his six year-old Thinkpad was unfortunately Not Yet Broken.

The dark side of Dothan also reared its head, briefly. When asked why Intel was introducing a new naming scheme for Centrino, Chandrasekhar replied that the numbers represented more of "goodness measure" and reflected features that were not necessarily "performance enhancing", such as Le Grande. Le Grande is Intel's contribution to TCPA-compliant lock-down computing, and allows large media companies to impair the user's ability to exchange media files, such as their favorite songs. So you can see why Le Grande isn't "performance enhancing", and quite the reverse. In fact it might be very difficult indeed to sell a computer with Le Grande capabilities, once Microsoft completes its side of the Faustian bargain. But that project is slipping and Doomesday may not coincide with the release of Windows Longhorn.

When we asked Anand what he might have done differently last year with Centrino, he said he would have probably wanted to start the consumer promotion a little earlier.

He didn't give any indication that Intel would integrate Bluetooth into the Centrino chipset anytime soon: because most people don't use it, the integration isn't cost-effective, he said. This will be met with relief by Bluetooth chip manufacturers, no doubt. Many of the Dothan notebooks we saw displayed at the launch did in fact have Bluetooth capabilities, but all these come from third parties, of course.

When we approached Anand. he was explaining to a financial analyst who Must Not Be Named how it wasn't yet possible to get email on a mobile phone, and Anand took out his AT&T GSM Nokia phone (we believe it was a 6310) to emphasize the point. Alas, he declined our offer to demonstrate how well email could be handled on your reporter's AT&T GSM Nokia phone, and the conversation moved on.

It's funny what you overhear. Perhaps this explains why Intel has felt it necessary to invent this amazing gadget. ®

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