SAN JOSE, Calif. - For years, Intel Corp.’s microprocessors for laptop computers differed little from those powering desktop PCs. At their core, the chips were designed for machines plugged into the wall, not juiced by a battery.
That changes this month as the world’s largest semiconductor company ushers a new technology built from the ground up for mobile computing. The result, Intel says, is high performance and wireless capability with slower battery drain.
The technology, dubbed Centrino, is more than a new processor. It combines the energyefficient chip, called Pentium M, with components designed to work reliably together and ensure the greatest power savings.
Some laptop vendors are sure to grumble, though, about having to include the entire Centrino package in order to use the brand name and benefit from Intel marketing, said Roger Kay, an analyst for the research firm IDC.
Intel already lets vendors use an ‘‘Intel Inside’’ logo. Now, the company will ‘‘certify’’ coffee shops, hotels and other wireless hotspots it deems compatible with the Centrino package.
Vendors who opt to mix Centrino’s microprocessor with non-Intel components won’t get certification and can’t use a compatibility logo to advertise their hotspots.
‘‘The last thing in the world you want to do is say ‘wireless is great’ and then have everybody have a bad experience,’’ Intel chief executive Craig Barrett said.
He said Intel is ‘‘trying to be very careful with where we say it will work and under what conditions — and who we work with to bring the new technology into the marketplace.’’
Centrino’s March 12 launch will be supported with an ad budget larger than the $300 million Intel spent for the Pentium 4 in late 2000. Teaser ads start today, promising Intel will not only change ‘‘how you work but where you work.’’
Rival chip makers say consumers need not buy the entire Centrino package to get effective technology for WiFi wireless connectivity, which some industry pundits consider the biggest thing in computing since the Internet.
Savvy corporate laptop buyers will likely buy both Centrino systems and hybrids that use Pentium-M along with non-Intel wireless components, said Rich Redelfs, chief executive of wireless chip-maker Atheros Communications.
Analysts say Intel’s Centrino blitz could give a big boost to WiFi, which is expanding as cafes, airports, hotels and convenience stores set up ‘‘wireless clouds’’ of connectivity to attract customers and add revenue.
Thanks in part to WiFi, portable computing has taken off in recent years.
According to researchers at IDC, worldwide unit sales of desktops computers last year fell 1 percent over 2001 wh ile notebook sales increased 9.8 percent.
The Centrino systems, if they live up to Intel’s promises, could accelerate that growth.
The chip set, which acts as a bridge between the processor and the rest of the system, also has been optimized to conserve power, particularly in how much energy is used by the system’s display.