Intel, the world's top PC chip maker, on Tuesday launched the next-generation of its Centrino wireless chip that it hopes will provide a new revenue stream amid a broader push into mobile technologies.
The launch of the Centrino 2 chip, previously code named Montevina, came after a delay of several months and was decidedly lower key than the launch of the first Centrino chips in 2003.
The next generation chipset combines wi-fi capability, which is only usable within about 100 meters of so-called "hot-spot" transmitters, with a newer wireless technology called WiMax, which allows for high-speed data transmission over much bigger distances and can be used to blanket entire cities.
IDC analyst Bryan Ma said the new chips represent a more incremental development for the industry, compared with the first Centrino that marked Intel's entry to the wireless space.
"My big question is whether this is revolutionary or evolutionary; I suspect it may be more of the latter," Ma said. "Even if it's just evolutionary, however, it is still a good fuel to help the industry along."
The chips are mainly intended to go into notebook computers, as the PC industry moves to more mobile devices with new lighter technologies and development of new wireless networks.
Taiwan is in the process of constructing six WiMax wireless networks, and is also the world's top contract PC producer, with sector leaders Quanta and Compal Electronics manufacturing for Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sony, among others.
"Notebook computers will be the main industry driver in the future, and notebook sales already outnumber desktop sales in many countries," said Stanley Huang, director of advanced technical sales and services for Intel Asia Pacific, at a launch event in Taipei.
"Because this chip has new capabilities, we hope it will change the way people think of mobile computing," he said.
Others at the launch included HP, the world's top PC maker, and Acer and Lenovo, numbers 3 and 4. All plan to use the chips in their models, with various players designing some 250 different notebook models with the chip.
The world's largest chip maker is hoping to capitalize on the growing popularity of notebook PCs, which are rapidly taking over from older desktop models.
Unlike desktop PCs that are suited to use landline technology such as cable modems, laptops are more suited to wireless connectivity because of their portability.
Data tracking firm IDC expects the notebook PC segment to grow 35 percent this year to 145 million units shipped, while desktops should grow much more slowly, by 2 percent, to 157 million. At current growth rates, IDC estimates annual notebook shipments will surpass desktops next year.
The Centrino 2 launch is part of a broader Intel strategy to develop a wider suite of wireless products to use in non-PC devices, most notably cellphones, as data transmission speeds improve with new mobile technologies.
Such technologies allow for a much wider range of applications, such as streaming video and video downloads, that would have been impossible using older technology.
Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini said in a speech last year that his company is seeking to spread its technology from the high-performance computing market to smaller products such as TV set-top boxes and handheld Internet-enabled devices.