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Intel gets in a branding pickle

Core blimey!

What do you get if you cross a Centrino notebook with a vPro PC?

It sounds like a joke for geeks but it's actually a real branding headache for Intel. As the chip maker prepares to launch a raft of new chips and processors, it's turned into a challenge for Intel's marketing department to keep its branding in order.

The Centrino platform was introduced in 2003 to identify laptops with a collection of Intel products for wireless computing. PC makers who used the required list of parts slapped Centrino stickers on their laptops, and the program has been seen as largely successful.

This year brought the Viiv platform, which includes hardware and software for home entertainment use, and in the coming months the first desktops will be shipped based on Intel's new vPro brand, which includes chips and software packaged for office use.

That's straightforward enough. But what happens when the brands start to overlap?

Early next year, Intel will add the vPro capabilities to notebook computers - many of which are already branded Centrino (or Centrino Duo, for those with dual-core chips). It now has to figure out how to marry the two.

"How do you like CenvPro?" mused Steve Peterson, Intel's director of chipset and software marketing, adding quickly, "That was a joke."

Core values

In fact, the company hasn't figured out yet how it will pair the technologies. It doesn't want to confuse people with too many brands, but it also wants to communicate that both sets of capabilities will be in the products.

"Do we just keep it as Centrino Duo or do we do a closer tie with vPro? That's still a 'TBD' (to be determined)," said Keith Kressin, director of marketing for Intel's mobile platforms group.

The branding discussion extends to processors, too. Intel introduced its first dual-core chips last year, and this year it is rolling out a brand-new microprocessor architecture, called Core. With those changes come the new processor brands Core Duo and Core 2 Duo.

That could soon spell the end for the venerable Pentium. After 13 years of service, the brand upon which Intel built its reputation is sliding down to the "value segment," to make room for Core Duo and Core 2 Duo above it.

Not everyone at Intel was happy about that, Peterson said. "Whenever it comes to any kind of branding, everyone at Intel becomes a PME (product marketing executive) for the day. Everyone wants to have their emotional say, it does get quite hotly debated."

The Pentium won't disappear completely - at least not yet. Intel will now have two low-end brands: the Celeron aimed at very low-end systems, and perhaps developing markets, and the Pentium for systems priced just above that.

"The Pentium will compete for shelf space alongside Celeron," said Anand Chandrasekher, an Intel senior vice president, in a speech at the Computex trade show this week.

It may seem an undignified ending for the Pentium, but it could also be good news for PC buyers. As the Core 2 Duo starts to flood the upper tiers of Intel's price list next month, its Pentium D processors will be offered at "new, compelling price points," Chandrasekher said.

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