Yesterday, Intel announced the immediate availability of its new Centrino Duo mobile platform, code-named Santa Rosa. The new platform is a huge boon for users of portable computers, and it features a faster system bus, new Core 2 Duo processors, and a faster wireless connection. Additionally, Centrino Duo systems can be outfitted with motherboard-based Flash RAM that can dramatically speed system performance. A version called Centrino Pro is also available for business systems.

The debut of the Centrino Duo comes at the end of a year or so of rapid mobile hardware releases by Intel. In early 2006, the company launched its Core Duo processors, 32-bit dual core designs aimed at recovering the technical ground that the company had previously lost to AMD. Later in the year, Intel launched its Core 2 Duo chips, which include 64-bit capabilities. Now, with the Centrino Duo, Intel has the total package, a next-generation mobile solution that is best of breed across the board.

Though the Centrino Duo works with a new generation of Core 2 Duo processors, these chips aren't much of an improvement over the previous generation: The new Core 2 Duo processors range in clock speed from about 1.8GHz to 2.4GHz, and some feature as much as 4MB of L2 cache. But the big changes with Centrino can be seen elsewhere. Intel's new Turbo Memory feature uses Flash RAM to speed overall system performance and increase battery life. The front-side bus now runs at 800MHz, compared with 667MHz for previous generation Centrino designs. The wireless networking chips include support for 802.11a/b/g as well as the faster draft-n specification. And a new integrated graphics chipset offers dramatically better performance than earlier designs.

In addition to the Centrino Duo, which is aimed at consumer and mainstream portable computers, Intel is also offering a more advanced version of the technology called Centrino Pro, which targets business notebooks. Centrino Pro adds embedded security hardware and IT asset management features.

Major PC makers such as Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Sony, and Toshiba are launching Centrino Duo- and Pro-based machines in the days ahead, although both Acer and Lenovo are ready today with new machines. I've been testing a Centrino Pro-based Lenovo ThinkPad T61-14w since last week, and will report my findings soon on the SuperSite for Windows. Long story short, this is, perhaps, the nicest laptop I've ever used, and it's chock-full of the technological goodness you'll want to take Windows Vista to the next level.

There's still plenty of room for improvement. Intel will ship more efficient, 45nm versions of its Core 2 Duo chips, code-named Penryn, sometime later this year; the current versions use a 60nm design. And then there's AMD, which is scrambling to overcome Intel's sudden technical lead. This week, AMD announced its new "Better by Design" branding program for portable computers: It will be used by systems that feature AMD's Turion processors and ATI graphics chipsets. AMD, too, is touting the upcoming availability of 45nm chips, which the company hopes to ship by mid-2008.