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Updated Intel launched the second generation of its Centrino notebook platform today, as expected. But how will prospective buyers know whether they're buying a machine based on the new version or one of the many old-style Centrino boxes Intel expects vendors to continue to offer?

Certainly, there will be a diverse array of machines based on second-generation Centrino - codenamed 'Sonoma' - from basic machines through to high-end executive-oriented thin'n'light systems, with widescreen multimedia-friendly consumer boxes somewhere in between. In all, Intel anticipates the announcement of 80 different Sonoma-based models this month, with 150 on store shelves by the summer. From the start, the mix should be around 50:50 consumer:business, the chip giant said.

Intel expects the Centrino brand to cover an increasingly broad line-up of notebooks, ultimately making it harder for buyers to decide what the brand actually means.

Clearly, a Centrino notebook will - for now - be based on a Pentium M processor, with associated chipset and wireless functionality. In the Sonoma generation, chipset will be a 915PM, 915GM, 915GMS or 915GML, all members of the 'Alviso' family, which, as the '915' and 'M' naming scheme suggests, is a mobile version of the desktop 915 series, aka 'Grantsdale'.

Alviso, as we've noted before - Sonoma's details being among Intel's worst-kept secrets, in addition to the many beans the chip giant has spilled itself - provides "power-optimised" 533MHz frontside bus, PCI Express, Serial ATA, 400MHz and 533MHz DDR 2 SDRAM, Intel's Hi-Def Audio, dynamic screen backlight power management, and - in the case of the GM and GMS chipsets - its DirectX 9-compatible, Hi-Def video-enabled Media Graphics Accelerator 900 integrated imaging engine.

Mix'n'match

How many of these features make it into notebooks remains to be seen. Certainly the MDA900 will, alongside more gamer-oriented products using the discrete 915PM chipset and a PCI or PCI Express standalone graphics chip, but Intel said it expects plenty of PCI-based machines to appear, particularly at the low-end of the consumer and business arenas. Notebook-friendly Serial ATA hard drives are a wee way off too, so it's a good job Alviso supports IDA storage.

Sound support is likely to extend from AC'97 levels up to fully-featured Hi-Def rigs with multiple microphones for better voice recognition and Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound, but most machine will tend to the lower end of the scale.

DDR 2 is crucial to the consumer, not necessarily because of the battery life benefits its lower power consumption (than plain DDR) brings, but because, unlike Grantsdale, Alviso will not support the older DDR specification, an Intel spokesman told The Register.

One of the latest Pentium M processors is crucial too. Intel launched the 730, 740, 750, 760 and 770, all of which support a 533MHz frontside bus, include 2MB of on-die L2 cache and incorporate the 'no execute' Execute Disable Bit system used by Windows XP Service Pack 2 to block certain viruses. You'll note there are no 533MHz FSB Pentium M variants without EDB support, hence the lack of the 'J' suffix usually used to indicate the incorporation of this technology.

The five chips are clocked at and 1.6, 1.73, 1.86, 2.06 and 2.13GHz, respectively. Intel also launched today the low voltage 1.5GHz LV Pentium M 758 and the ultra-low voltage 1.2GHz ULV Pentium M 753. Both CPUs go with the 915GMS chipset.

The aforementioned 915GML chipset is pitched at the new 1.5GHz Celeron M 370 and the 1GHz ULV Celeron M 373.

Last on the list of Sonoma components are Intel's ProWireless 2915ABG and 2200BG Wi-Fi chipsets, which offer 802.11a/b/g and 802.11b/g support, respectively. Again, expect vendors to mix and match both WLAN adaptors into a range of Sonoma-based machines. Both adaptors are already widely available, shipping with Intel's ProWireless Wi-Fi connectivity software.

Speaking of software, Intel re-iterated its commitment to Linux, but could not provide a timescale for adding support for Sonoma's new features to the open source OS.

Specific prices were not available as we went to press, but Centrino bundles incorporating the new CPUs and chipsets, and existing Wi-Fi adaptors range from $270-705 in 1000-chip batches. The two new Celeron M parts cost £134 and $161, respectively. ®

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