Intel to expand on Centrino-style branding

— 11:01 AM on November 15, 2004

Intel has poured millions into the Centrino name, a branding initiative that wraps together the Pentium M processor, a core logic chipset, and a wireless networking solution under one umbrella. This initiative has pushed competing core logic and networking chips to the sidelines in the mobile market by making Centrino a much more recognizable brand than the Pentium M alone. Folks at Intel must be satisfied with the results, if this report from Reuters is correct, because the company is reportedly planning Centrino-like branding exercises for more market segments. The next such push will be for home-entertainment PCs:

The initiative, codenamed East Fork, is part of a push to develop "platform" brands -- heavily promoted names that designate bundles of chips for particular applications, like entertainment, mobility, or business computing. Such brands boost sales of Intel's high-margin microprocessors, chip industry analysts say.

East Fork will include a newly designed Intel microprocessor with two processing cores, a supporting chip set, and a Wi-Fi wireless radio. The package will be designed for "digital home" PCs, which shuttle music and movies around the home and can store TV shows digitally, the person said.

Intel has been giving signals about moving in this direction in recent months, as the Reuters story notes, and I would expect to see this trend continue. Intel didn't make much noise about the launch of its Pentium 4 570J processor today, limiting the number of samples it sent to reviewers. The company cited its desire to move to "more of a platform focus" in explaining the muted product introduction, indicating that future product launches will be more like the introduction of the Pentium 4 560 processor and 915/925X Express chipsets, in which a sweeping series of changes arrived all at once.

The impact of this new marketing strategy on the rest of the PC industry could be huge. Makers of third-party core logic, networking, and graphics chips may have to fight an uphill battle in every segment of the market, forced to explain to consumers how their products, combined with others, replicate the functionality of a much better known Intel brand that represents a coherent set of functions. This changed emphasis may also presage more specialization in CPU design, as Intel pushes specific processors as part of its platforms for specific markets.

None of these revelations about Intel's future marketing direction necessarily suggest Intel will bring its Pentium M processor core to other markets, as some folks have assumed upon reading this news. The platform-centric strategy would certainly make such a move easier, though.

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