updated 1/17/2005 7:26:04 PM ET 2005-01-18T00:26:04

Intel Corp. will launch a major upgrade of its popular Centrino technology for notebook computers Wednesday, as the world's largest chipmaker seeks to expand the product's audience from business users to consumers.

The new chips, code-named Sonoma, are expected to enable more consumer-friendly systems that better support video, audio and games. When Centrino was first launched, it was targeted primarily at business users.

"We are trying to take what we started with Centrino and continue to evolve it," said Mooly Eden, vice president of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group.

Centrino consists of a microprocessor, chipset and wireless radio _ all of which were built to maximize notebook performance while minimizing electricity requirements and overall system size. Its 2003 launch turned out to be one of the most successful in Intel's history.

The new version is expected to increase the top clock speed of the Pentium M, the microprocessor component of Centrino, as well as make memory improvements.

The company said the new integrated graphics chip should have no problem handling 3D games, DVDs or even high-definition video.

The chip also will support high-quality audio such as Dolby Digital and 7.1 surround sound. And its radio component has been upgraded to support a standard is less susceptible to interference from electronic devices such as portable phones and microwave ovens.

Intel declined to comment on prices before Wednesday's launch in San Francisco, but it's expected that the prices of notebooks based on the new technology will start well below the first Centrino-based machines introduced in 2003.

Competition in the laptop chip market is expected to increase this year. Intel's main rival, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., is expected to launch a low-power, high-performance microprocessor for notebooks called Turion in mid-2005, though few details have been released.

Unlike Intel, AMD is only supplying the processor, not a bundle of chips.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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