Intel Ships Pentium M 'Dothan'

The company offers three new Centrino cores with double the cache and faster speeds, but will enterprise customers take the bait initially?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel opened a new chapter on its wireless strategy Monday with the launch of its next generation Pentium M processor.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant revealed three new cores (code-named Dothan) for its Centrino chipsets. As previously reported, the internal brains behind the processor are the first mobile chips from Intel built using the 90-nanometer process and serve as the successor to the chipmaking giant's original Banias insides.

Instead of being identified by their speed, the Dothan cores are the first chips under Intel's new processor sequencing system that rely on a combination of function and performance. The three new Pentium M chips (7XX sequence) will be known as 755, 745 and 735. The processors run at 2GHz, 1.8GHz and 1.7GHz respectively and will cost $637, $423 and $294 each in quantities of 1,000. The series includes a 2MB Level 2 cache (twice the amount of the current Pentium Mobile) and 400MHz front side bus.

The chipsets are also outfitted with Intel's 802.11b and 802.11.g PRO/Wireless 2200BG network connection.

Intel's partners have already lined up for the new chips including Dell, Gateway, and Toshiba. IBM and HP are also expected to offer notebooks and other mobile devices in support of the new Dothan cores.

The addition of new Pentium M chips comes on the heels of a massive shift in Intel's chipmaking strategy. The company said Friday it would no longer pursue further development of single-core processors for its Pentium and Xeon product lines. The company is instead switching to dual-core designs including its mobile lineups. While Intel had already announced it would pursue a dual-core Pentium M after the launch of its Dothan cores, sometime in 2005, the company has shelved plans on its single-core chips after Prescott (Tejas and Jayhawk).

The release of the new Pentium M chips also mark the one-year anniversary of Intel's Centrino initiative. The company spent an estimated $300 million on its "Unwire" campaign to help promote a mobile lifestyle. Intel has said that the promotion has been successful in padding its $8.1 billion in revenues for the last three months.

Intel now lays claim to more than 130 laptop PC designs based Centrino chipsets and nearly 32,000 verified hotspots around the world it says will run great on its architecture.

But the upgrade may run into some resistance from enterprise customers who have just spent the past year being convinced by vendors that they need to purchase Intel's onramp to the Wi-Fi craze.

"Interesting that they're trying to go after consumers," IDC semiconductor analyst Roger Kay told internetnews.com. "Centrino has had a hard time penetrating the consumer segment because it is positioned as a premium part and consumers are fairly price sensitive. I'm wondering how Intel will get consumers to pick up Dothan. Maybe, since enterprises have to put in VPNs to adopt wireless, consumers are a more straightforward play. They can just buy an access point and get going."

Another stumbling block has been production delays. Intel suffered three-month setbacks from two of its plants in getting Dothan up and running. During a recent briefing, Intel Vice President Anand Chandrasekher chalked up the pause on production to a "quality issue that Intel verified in its final stages."

"The problem I believe Intel is facing with its 90-nm process is higher leakage currents," Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for In-Stat/MDR, told internetnews.com. "This will increase power consumption and it is especially a problem when the processor is in sleep mode. Intel has likely been working on changes to the design to mitigate the problem. Dothan would not be very useful if it offered shorter battery life and lower clock frequencies. Originally, may of us expected Dothan to offer significantly higher clock frequencies, but now my expectation is for much more modest or no increase in clock frequency. So I don't expect Dothan to offer breakaway performance, but rather a smooth increment."

As part of its birthday bash, Intel is sponsoring an event at SBC Park in San Francisco. The baseball stadium has recently been outfitted with Wi-Fi access. In addition to highlighting Centrino and introducing Dothan, Intel is scheduled to give testimonials from four major U.S. retailers (Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA and Office Depot).






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