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Intel launched Centrino 10 years ago today

Tue Mar 12 2013, 00:10

Instead of building on Netburst, Intel went to the Pentium M architecture, using it as a foundation to launch what would become Conroe, known more commonly as the Core Duo line. So while Intel might have replaced Centrino chips with its Ultrabook marketing initiative, Intel's laptop chips still owe an architectural debt to the Pentium M from 2003.

While Intel brought out a new chip architecture in Banias, the firm also spared no effort in touting its WiFi connectivity chips that hooked up to a new Northbridge chipset, all of which together made up a Centrino system. Intel's PC OEM partners had to use all three components in order to label a laptop a Centrino laptop, a marketing ploy that Intel is still trying to pull off - with significantly less success - in its Ultrabook branding effort recently.

In 2003 Intel wasn't the first company to produce WiFi chipsets and the 11Mbit/s 802.11b WiFi standard was well established. However what Intel did was to take WiFi connectivity from something that usually meant plugging in a PCMCIA card and put it into the laptop, an altogether more attractive option for users.

Intel even tried its best to sell the notion of WiFi connectivity on its 2003 Cebit stand, with representatives walking around with laptops showing off web and email without any wires. While Intel's demonstration worked fine on its stand, this reporter remembers vividly that the rest of Cebit's Messe fairgrounds lacked the necessary WiFi infrastructure to take advantage of Intel's WiFi evangelism.

Nevertheless, Intel spent millions promoting Centrino laptops and without a doubt that helped accelerate the deployment of WiFi networks in public areas as consumers bought Centrino machines.

Centrino offered Intel a new way of doing business. It was no longer a matter of just selling a chip like the Pentium in 1993, but a way of bundling silicon parts together and making use of Intel's branding to force the PC OEMs to buy more than just one Intel chip. With Centrino Intel scored a long term marketing victory, as AMD was never able to gain a big presence in the laptop market.

Perhaps the best testament to Intel's lasting success with Centrino is how closely its recent Ultrabook campaign mirrors that of its 2003 initiative. The firm is effectively prescribing a set of components to OEMs in order to gain Ultrabook certification, and it is investing hundreds of millions in advertising the Ultrabook brand.

Thanks to Centrino and now Ultrabooks, Intel has become a PC system builder without actually getting its hands dirty and putting all the parts together. For consumers, Centrino assembled a clutch of core components under a single brand name that they could understand without having to follow the information technology press, which is an impressive achievement for a company that makes components that most users can't see or touch.

Now 10 years on, Intel's Centrino still remains a successful technology marketing template for other hardware vendors to sell multiple components and present a uniform baseline standard to consumers. µ


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