Intel's '06 resolution: improve notebooks, home PCs

Napa, the third generation of Centrino mobile technology, is almost ready for a formal unveiling

Intel Corp. is getting ready to launch two major products that will combine the most visible piece of the company's evolving platform strategy, its Centrino mobile brand, with the company's most ambitious effort yet at building the digital home, executives said Tuesday.

Napa, the third generation of Intel's Centrino mobile technology, is almost ready for a formal unveiling in January. Likewise, Intel and its PC partners plan to launch and heavily promote Viiv (rhymes with five) entertainment PCs starting the same month. Both products are expected to take center stage in Intel's efforts at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during the first week of January.

Intel has already shared many details about Napa, which is the combination of the Yonah dual-core mobile processor, the Intel Mobile 945 chipset, and the Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG chip. But the company cited performance statistics for the first time Tuesday, revealing that Napa should outperform Sonoma, the current generation of Intel's mobile technology, by as much as 68 percent based on internal tests, said Keith Kressin, director of marketing with Intel's Mobile Platforms Group. Intel also reduced the average power consumption of Napa-based notebooks by 28 percent as compared to current Sonoma-based notebooks, he said.

In addition, Napa notebooks will have smarter wireless chips, Kressin said. For example, Napa notebooks will attempt to find the local wireless connection with the most available bandwidth, instead of seeking out the access point with the strongest signal. The access point with more bandwidth will give the user a faster network experience than would the one with the strongest signal, which might be overloaded with users.

Intel won't have trouble finding partners or customers for Napa-based notebooks, with more than 230 designs already planned by notebook makers around the world, Kressin said. But its Viiv strategy could face a tougher road as the worlds of consumer electronics, PCs, and digital content collide in the living room.

Viiv is modeled on the Centrino platform strategy, in which Intel sells its PC partners a combination of chips and then helps them promote the brand with a blanket advertising campaign. To get the marketing help, the PC vendors have to use all the Intel-specified components of the platform, which in this case includes a dual-core Intel processor, one of several multimedia chipsets, a Gigabit Ethernet networking chip, Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, and several other components designed to deliver high-definition audio and instant on-off capabilities to Viiv PCs.

Intel plans to certify devices and applications that have been designed with Viiv in mind, trying to make it easier for consumers to set up home media networks, said Merlin Kister, Intel Viiv technology program manager. The company has already certified dozens of applications and services from companies such as Movielink Inc. and British Sky Broadcasting within the Viiv program, and more are expected during 2006.

Delivering an easy-to-use experience with Viiv is crucial to Intel's success in the living room, Kister said. Of equal importance is Intel's high-wire balancing act of assuring content providers that consumers won't be able to freely share copyright wares with the world, while convincing consumers that they will still have the right to shift movies and music among devices and burn copies as backups, said Charlotte Lamprecht, director of digital home brand management in Intel's sales and marketing division.

To date, major content providers have been hesitant to embrace Intel and Microsoft's fledgling attempts at building a PC-based digital living room with premium content available over the Internet. Over the next year, however, several content providers that have been holding back on the digital market will make announcements related to making digital content available for downloading, said Eric Kim, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's sales and marketing group. New Intel partner Apple Computer Inc. has had more success in this area, signing deals with U.S. television networks ABC and NBC to make popular television shows available on the iTunes online store.

Intel will also look at convincing cable and satellite providers to accept Viiv PCs as a delivery method for their content, Kister said. Viiv PCs will be able to receive content from set-top boxes that currently accept cable and satellite television feeds, but early versions will not have ports that can directly accommodate the protected digital stream of content from companies such as Comcast Corp. or The DirectTV Group Inc., he said.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.