Intel vPro, Core 2 Duo Processors Coming to a Store Near You

At the National Retail Federation Convention, Intel is showing off a new proof-of-concept design for point-of-sale machines that will embed a number of Intel technologies into these devices, including the company's newer 45-nm processors originally used for laptops and Intel's vPro management technology. Intel's goal is to bring its x86 architecture into more and more embedded systems to expand the company's reach beyond desktops, notebooks and servers. Last year, Intel executives said the embedded market could be worth $10 billion in annual sales.

Intel is looking to bring its newer 45-nanometer Core 2 Duo processors along with its vPro management technology into the retail space with a new point-of-sale design that looks to expand the base for the chip giant's embedded portfolio.

At the National Retail Federation Convention in New York, which kicked off Jan. 12, Intel displayed a new proof-of-concept design for POS machines that will embed Intel's 45-nm Core 2 Duo mobile processors as well as its vPro technology into these devices in an effort to make these machines more power-efficient and easier to remotely manage.

The Intel Core 2 Duo processors are the same as the ones released with the updated Centrino 2 platform in July.

"We were looking at different markets where technology could make a big impact in terms of a green perspective," said Joe Jensen, the general manager of Intel's Embedded Computing Division. "Intel has been doing POS machines for about 20 years and when we looked at that market we started to realize a couple of things. First, almost every system is based on technology and most systems run 24 hours a day because many of the retailers believe these machines cannot be booted properly."

Since laptops need processors that work within smaller thermal footprints, Jensen said it seemed like a natural fit to use mobile processors in POS machines that are perpetually left on and running in retail stores. Most of Intel's newer Core 2 Duo processors work within a 25-watt thermal envelope.

At the same time, Intel's vPro technology - a set of management, security and virtualization technology that Intel builds into the silicon itself - allows a retail store's IT department to monitor and control a POS remotely, which can save the time and money it takes to send someone to a store to fix a machine. It also allows a centralized IT department to monitor machines for security breaches.

While the embedded market is not one of Intel's main businesses, it is a market that the company is looking to explore.

In 2008, Intel CEO Paul Otellini estimated the worldwide market for embedded products could reach annual sales of $10 billion. At the same time, Intel is looking to expand the footprint for x86 processors beyond desktops, notebooks and server systems. In order to accomplish that goal, Intel is looking to embed its x86 processor architecture into a new generation of POS machines, storage systems and even smaller devices such as MIDs - mobile Internet devices - and possibly even handsets, which mainly used ARM processors now.

Ultimately, Intel is looking to unify this new embedded market around common x86 processor architecture and software instructional set, while allowing these new devices to connect to the Internet

In July, Intel began offering a number of system-on-a-chip designs for the embedded market that use an older Pentium M processing core. Later, Intel will offer new SOC designs that use the same core that is found in the Intel Atom processors for "netbooks."

"It's a $1 billion a year market for them and they want to expand it," said John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "Intel's argument is that they can take standard Intel architecture and build embedded devices around it. Intel believes it can make those devices cheaper and allow companies to build them quicker. At the same time, all the software is there and it also allows companies to hook these devices up to the Internet."

Chip companies such as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices offer stable platforms for the embedded market since retail stores do not upgrade POS machines with the same frequency as they would a server or PC. In this case, Intel is offering a seven-year guarantee with this new retail design.

For now, Jensen said Intel's new POS design has not been picked up by manufacturers just yet, but he said Intel is talking to several OEMs about building machines that use the technology.