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Intel 'Santa Rosa' Centrino laptops hit shelves

Intel launched the “Santa Rosa” upgrade of its Centrino notebook platform Wednesday, running on PCs from Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo Group, Gateway and others.

Intel has seen strong sales for its original Centrino platform, and a market success with the improved version could help the company to continue its comeback against chip-making rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Already, Intel has tallied 230 platforms from various PC vendors that will be designed around the new Centrino, the company said.

The new version adds longer battery life and faster computing to the technology bundle of a processor, chipset and wireless card. Intel will keep the name Centrino Duo for the consumer version, although changes include a faster Core 2 Duo processor, support for the draft version of 802.11n wireless networking and a Turbo Memory feature that supplements the standard hard drive with NAND flash for faster booting.

“Probably the thing most people will notice is the graphics controller, for better video capability,” said Mike Trainor, Intel’s chief mobile technology evangelist. That will earn the new platform high marks from video gamers and DVD watchers, since improved color control will make the monitor show images nearly as vivid as a TV set, he said.

In an appeal to corporate buyers, Intel also launched a business version of Santa Rosa called Centrino Pro, which borrows many of the automated security and IT management features from Intel’s vPro business desktop platform. That will allow corporate system administrators to repair and protect employees’ notebooks remotely, inspecting faulty PCs or adding software patches over wireless links.

Adding remote corporate management technology to notebook PCs will meet a strong customer demand, PC vendors say.

“One of the key things we’ve been hearing is the need to simplify the overall IT environment,” said Brett McAnally, senior marketing manager for Dell’s Latitude business notebook line. “Rising complexity has introduced challenges where customers have trouble focusing on their core business tasks.”

Dell will use Centrino Duo in the new D630 thin-and-light notebook and the D830 high-performance notebook introduced on Wednesday, replacing the previous models D620 and D820. The new platform extends battery life on those products by 15 percent compared to the standard Centrino, reaching up to 9.4 hours, Dell said.

Dell also plans to use the Centrino platform in its Latitude D430 ultra-mobile notebook and Precision M4300 workstation “in the coming weeks,” and will add Centrino Pro to its lineup by the fourth quarter when it launches a model D630c business notebook.

Dell charges $1,189 for the D630, with its 14.1-inch screen and 4.48-pound weight. The company charges $1,249 for the D830, with a 15.4-inch display and 5.97-pound weight. For the high-value market segment, Dell also unveiled its second Latitude notebook to use an AMD chip, the entry-level D531, selling for $839 with Turion 64 or Sempron processor.

The power efficiency of the new Centrino platform also answers customer demand for cooler, quieter PCs, said Tom Ribble, director of ThinkPad product marketing for Lenovo.

Lenovo unveiled the ThinkPad T61 with Centrino Pro and ThinkPad R61 with Centrino Duo, both with 14-inch widescreen displays and reduced surface temperature and fan noise. Beginning in mid-May, Lenovo will sell the T61 for $1,399 and the R61 for $1,249. The company will also launch a value-priced version for small business users in late May, selling the Lenovo 3000 N200 with Centrino Duo for $1,099.

HP also announced plans to sell Centrino-based notebooks, supporting Centrino Pro on its HP Compaq 2710p, 2510p and 6910p business notebooks. HP charges $1,349 for the 6910p, and by the fourth quarter will launch the 2710p for $1,699 and the 2510p for $1,599.

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