Chipmaker shrinks down to 90 nanometers for its next offering, but critics say there may not be a compelling reason for customers to upgrade.
Despite momentum with its Centrino strategy, analysts say Intel’s next generation Pentium M processor may have a tougher time in the marketplace.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant is expected to celebrate the first birthday of its Intel Centrino mobile technology and launch a new microprocessor code-named “Dothan” on May 10.
Dothan is Intel’s 90-nannometer (nm) process successor to its original Banias core. The second-generation is expected to feature a 400 MHz front side bus and 2MB of L2 cache. Like Banias, Dothan is expected to use Intel’s Odem and Montara chipsets in thin-and-light notebooks and other wireless LAN devices. The cores were manufactured at the company’s 300 mm 11X fabrication facility in New Mexico.
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.”
As previously reported, the Centrino platform is expected to get an upgrade with Intel’s “Sonoma” technology over the remainder of the year. The first batch includes a Dothan chip; a 533 MHz front-side bus; a new Wi-Fi component that supports the 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networking standards; and, a new chipset code-named “Alviso.”
The chipset supports Direct Media Interface with improved bandwidth, TV-out, high definition audio, eight USB ports, four-port PCI Express, and up to 2GB of DDR2 memory. Intel said Alviso will also support its High Definition Audio with low power capabilities.
“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.”
Intel is certainly not holding back the advertising on Dothan. The company is currently in the second phase of its estimated $300 million “Unwire” campaign. Still, Rick Whittington, managing director and researcher at Caris & Company, said if Intel — king of semiconductor marketing — can convince consumers Dothan exceeds Centrino, then it wins, regardless of benchmarks, specifications or any potential challengers to the throne.
“There is tremendous demand in the marketplace for mobile computing solutions, including Transmeta ,” Whittington said. “I think overall demand is so strong and new platform niche creation such that there’s room for multiple vendors. Of course, that’s not what Intel wishes and the rub will be whether they can dial down the power/voltage on 90 nm Dothan. I don’t think they can and maintain the performance levels [Transmeta’s] Efficeon [low-power processor] fabbed by Fujitsu on 90-nm [process] can muster.”
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).