Intel wants to reinvent the business desktop, and it has named a new candidate to do it.
The chip maker on April 24 revealed vPro, a bundle of chips that incorporate features it promises will make business desktops more energy-efficient, more secure and easier to manage.
With the launch of the new brand name, Intel is beginning the rollout of what many of its executives have called the most improved desktop platform launch in at least five years. The new platform, also referred to by the code name Averill, includes the pieces and parts that will deliver Intels promised improvements, including more capable dual-core processors, beefier graphics, and advanced built-in virtualization, management and security technologies, as well as alliances with companies such as Symantec to support the features.
"We think its time to reinvent the desktop," said Paul Otellini, Intels CEO, speaking at an event in San Francisco. "We think its time to reinvent those 85 million [desktops shipped per year] and help bring better manageability, better security into the business environment. Its all about driving costs down and driving productivity up for our employees."
The vPro brand, which was created to help embody Intels effort and to put a point on its effort to deliver a bundle of chips and add-on features to boost corporate desktops, also arrives at a critical juncture for the chip maker.
Intel suffered disappointing financial performances in the fourth quarter of 2005 and first quarter of 2006 and lost significant market share to rival Advanced Micro Devices. Now AMD is targeting Intels stronghold in the business-client market. There, AMD seeks to use the success of its Opteron server chip, which is now used by a large number of Fortune 500 companies, to begin gaining more business desktop and notebook wins.
The vPro platform will offer three basic pillars, including manageability, security and energy efficiency, with features such as built-in agents that assess security and can shut off an infected PCs network access, keeping it from spreading a virus or other piece of malicious software.
Manageability features present in its Advanced Management Technology will serve to help automate software updates and other management tasks that often take a desk-side visit by an IT manager.
Virtualization, meanwhile, can help with security by creating a partition that houses security and management software separately from a users data. Effectively creating different silos or zones for data inside a PC could help decrease the potential for a virus to take hold, Intel executives stated in a series of demonstrations.
Most of the additional features can be accessed by third-party software makers, who can write their software to work with them. For example, moving security into a partition, "you have the opportunity to rid an attack before it gets into a user programmable space," said John Thompson, Symantecs CEO, who joined Otellini at the event. "We think it has the opportunity to truly, truly change the game."
The first vPro platforms will begin seeding to customers this quarter, but will not be widely available until the third quarter. The machines will be offered by a wide range of brand-name computer manufacturers, Otellini said.
Companies such as Lenovo have supported the technology in the past.
When vPro machines do arrive, Conroe, a new dual-core processor, will become the heart of the platform, Otellini said. Intel has said Conroe, one of its three new dual-core Core Microarchitecture processors, will offer a 40 percent performance boost and use 40 percent less power than its current dual-core desktop chip, the Pentium D.
Still, Intel will have some work to do to ensure that the new brand name will resonate with customers, although it may well help Intel to differentiate its desktop chips from AMDs, analysts said.
"I think itll be quite a challenge for Intel to communicate the value of the attributes. Corporate customers understand the value of those attributes. They want those things. But to communicate those things at a glance is difficult," said Roger Kay, president of EndPoint Technologies Associates in Wayland, Mass. "Itll be a lot harder to get the at-a-glance recognition theyve gotten for Centrino."
But, over time, the vPro-and-Im-good-to-go feeling may come, Kay said. "Im imagining a multiyear campaign here."
Also, "It helps them in a competitive world against AMD. Even though Intels pretty much totally entrenched in enterprise … theyre threatened" there, Kay said. "Enterprise customers are starting to entertain the idea of using AMD. The brand ties it all up in a neat bow and says, You dont have to worry about the details, theyre all there."
Computers under the vPro brand will come in two configurations. A vPro or Averill Professional machine will come with Intels Conroe chip, as well as its supporting 965 chip set, which it says will offer beefier graphics and improvements in audio processing, storage and dual-monitor setups. It will also come with a TPM 1.2 chip and a new network connector.
A vPro or Averill Fundamental PC will come with the Pentium D and a lesser 900-series chip set and will lack most of the management technologies found in the Professional-series PCs.
Both types of machines will fit into Intels Professional Business Platform program, which involves the chip maker rolling out a new set of business desktop chips with a promise to offer them unchanged for a period of 15 months, including three for testing and 12 for deployment.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include additional information on the vPro.