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Intel's Sonoma to launch next week

Next-generation wireless PC platform goes public 19 January

Intel plans to launch the second generation of its Centrino mobile processor platform at an event in San Francisco on 19 January. The new platform, code-named Sonoma, will include a new version of Intel's Pentium M mobile processor, a new wireless chip and a new chip set, which Intel says will have double the graphics performance of its current products.

Approximately 80 new notebook PCs based on the platform will begin shipping around the time of the launch, including products from Dell, HP, IBM and Toshiba. The total number of Sonoma systems is expected to grow to about 150 by the end of the year, the company says.

At the heart of the platform will be a new generation of Intel's Pentium M processor, code-named Dothan, which will have slightly faster clock speeds ranging up to 2.13GHz, and as much as 2MB of on-chip memory. The fastest of these new processors, called the Pentium M 770, will be priced in the same range as Intel's current top-of-the-line 2.1GHz Pentium M 765, say sources familiar with Intel's plans.

All told, Intel plans to launch five new versions of the Pentium M as well as new low-voltage and ultra-low-voltage processors at the event.

The most interesting developments in Sonoma, however, relate to the platform's new "Alviso" chip set and its frontside bus architecture, which connects the chip set to the processor, says an Intel spokesperson.

Alviso will have a 533MHz frontside bus, which means that the processor will be able to communicate with other components of the chip set much faster than a processor does in the current crop of 400MHz frontside bus systems.

Sonoma will support Intel's PCI Express standard and DDR2 (Double Data Rate 2) memory for the first time, and will include a new wireless networking chip set, called the Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG network connection, which will support the 802.11a/b/g wireless standards, the spokesperson says.

Though the first generation of Centrino products were able to radically extend the battery life of notebook systems, the Sonoma line focuses on performance rather than power consumption, says Sam Bhavnani, senior analyst with Current Analysis. "With Sonoma, battery life remains the same," he says.

However, the new frontside bus and larger on-chip cache will give graphics performance a big boost with the new systems, he says. "You're going to start seeing a physical difference between a notebook that was released a year ago and notebooks that are released on the Sonoma platform."

Increasingly, Intel has been working to make the platform more appealing to consumers, Bhavnani says.

In addition to the better graphics performance, Sonoma systems will include new wireless networking software called Intel PRO/Set and new High Definition Audio technology, all of which were developed with the consumer market in mind, Intel's Grimes says. "People will be using this a lot more as a home entertainment device," she says. "You'll see a lot more diversity in the systems now."

Intel had originally hoped to launch Sonoma in 2004, but the announcement was delayed after the company experienced problems producing the chip set.

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