Intel Centrino 2 Launch--Powerful, but Late

Just ahead of Intel’s second-quarter fiscal earnings release, the chipmaker is finally beginning to roll out its delayed new family of notebook processors, dubbed Centrino 2.

The company was holding an event in San Francisco the afternoon of July 14 with top pc makers, including Gateway and Lenovo. The new chip platform, formerly dubbed Montevina, is shipping three weeks later than initially targeted. For now, it only comes in versions that require a separate graphics chip.

A version with Intel integrated graphics is not expected to ship until the first week of August—and there’s the rub. That may be far too late for pc makers to benefit from the back-to-school crowd that typically opts for the notebook computers with cheaper integrated graphics. The general rule is that the chips should be in pc makers’ hands by early July to give them time to test and install in systems, then ship them to retailers.

The delay could become a big problem for pc makers, who already are nervous about global consumer sales in the wake of high oil prices and increasing inflation on core goods. In the interim, some may take advantage of chip rival Advanced Micro Devices new notebook platform, dubbed Puma. It, too, combines a mobile processor with integrated graphics garnered from AMD’s acquisition of ATI.

The good news for Intel is that its new chips are smoking-fast and far more energy-efficient that anything on the market. I’ve been testing a new Gateway $1,400 laptop with a discrete Nvidia graphics card, which will be a Best Buy exclusive starting in August, and have been impressed with its power as a media-centric and gaming pc. Even typical business software launches smoothly and quickly. I’ve been particularly impressed the security software from Norton, running in the background, appears to have no appreciable effect on other tasks.

No doubt, the 4 GB of memory help, but pc makers seem to be unusually enthused about the Centrino 2 chip in particular. Chips have become almost an afterthought these days as companies focus on design and consumer usage models such as mobility and gaming to sell new pcs. But this new fifth-generation Centrino chip appears to be so much better in terms of performance that it’s worth getting the new Centrino 2 moniker. And it will be easy to demonstrate to both consumers and businesses the extra cash they may shell out for such a system is worth it.

Intel is expected to report solid, if not spectacular, earnings July 15. Despite its delays, the new Centrino 2 platform should keep the company on track for a good year amid dark economic clouds.

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