Intel's Centrino Duo Could Boost Custom Systems, Managed Services

System builders take heed: Intel's latest generation of the Centrino mobile architecture includes several developments designed with the custom-systems integration channel in mind.

The technologies include an interface that lets solution providers optimize the way a whitebook uses the new optional Intel Turbo Memory feature and the release of the first two Intel-branded mobile motherboards. The latter are slated to ship first in June as part of a 15.4-inch configurable barebones notebook through Mitac and other local aggregators, according to Intel.

And system builders could expect to see units shipped to them in the same time frame as tier-one vendors.

"This is a positive move for the channel in terms of whitebooks and custom systems," said Joe Toste, vice president of Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based system builder. With the new platform, Intel is slashing the time-to-channel of its systems, putting system builders on a more level-playing field with larger OEMs, he said.

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"The channel now will have a time-to-market product," Toste said. "In the past, when previous platforms came out, like Napa or Centrino, the channel didn't have a whitebook for six months."

With the Santa Rosa platform, Toste said, he believes his company will have an offering within weeks. "This is allowing the whitebook provider to say, 'Look, we have this too,' " he said.

The new platform also provides Intel's management technology in a mobile solution, a feature that could boost managed service solutions into enterprises that are migrating to notebook solutions.

Michael Waterman, vice president of LAM Systems, a Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based system builder and solution provider, said the addition of the Centrino Duo platform to his lineup will enable his company to offer a greater depth of managed services for mobile systems.

"We are seeing that transition to mobile at this point and are now seeing an opportunity with vPro [on the desktop] to bring managed services into the channel," Waterman said. "The key for us is to be able to tell a story in both directions."

Centrino Duo's inclusion of Intel's hardware-based management technology, AMT, on the mobile platform brings the managed services conversation to mobile solutions, he said.

In some areas, as with LAM Systems' customers in the K-12 education segment, where a limited number of systems are transitioning to notebooks, that will help in presenting a business case to schools.

"We've got to be able to talk about managed services or helping our education accounts be able to manage their own systems when it's cheaper and easier for them to do that," Waterman said.

Bill Davidson, mobile marketing manager at Intel, with responsibility for supporting Intel channel partners, said he believes whitebook designs based on the new Centrino Duo and Centrino Pro platforms will ship within the next 30 days. Compal Electronics of Taiwan is expected to be the first to market through distribution with a barebones kit that also includes optical and hard disk drives, memory and an operating system, he said.

That means solution providers should be able to get Centrino Duo notebooks into customers' hands at roughly the same time as the multinational OEMs, which sell many of the household brands.

"Resellers will be closer to the time-to-market than they were with Centrino," Davidson said.

That doesn't mean the current generation of Centrino will disappear immediately. Davidson said both architectures should be available from ODMs into early 2008.

The two latest additions, Intel Centrino Duo and Intel Centrino Pro, both are based on a next-generation Intel Core 2 Duo processor, the Mobile Intel 965 Express chipset, the Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N Network Connection, and the Intel 82566MM and 82566MC Gigabit Network Connection. The main difference between the two architectures is the management and security features in Centrino Pro, which are akin to the feature set supported in vPro at the desktop level.

Next: How the new Centrino platforms will appeal to VARs

Solution providers will be able to access notebooks if they are connected to the network, even in some wireless scenarios, providing remote management and support and cutting down on the need for costly in-person or depot-handled notebook repairs, Davidson said.

Don MacDonald, vice president of sales and marketing for Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., touted several core improvements at a New York launch event, including an increase in throughput for the front-side bus to 800Mhz. Intel has also worked on how the cores in the processor rest, enabling them to stay active at a lower state of power consumption, and it has dramatically improved graphics performance, he said.

Still, the channel could find it easiest to sell the new management capabilities in the Centrino Pro derivative. "Operational expense continues to be the most expensive cost that we need to help IT managers with," MacDonald said.

What should make the next-generation Centrino particularly compelling to systems builders and solution providers, Davidson said, are not just the basic performance enhancements but several options the channel can use to distinguish the notebooks they offer from those offered by large multinational vendors.

One of those options is related to the Intel Turbo Memory feature, which makes use of the Ready Drive and Ready Boost features within Windows Vista. Ready Drive enables Vista users to access solid-state or flash memory, which essentially makes for quicker boot times, while Ready Boost optimizes way the software interacts with devices such as thumb drives.

Davidson said resellers will be able to "pin" applications to Ready Drive using the Intel Turbo Memory feature. So, for example, a system intended for a graphics designer could be configured to load an illustration application using solid-state memory, and a finance manager's notebook might use solid state to keep accounting software more readily available. Solution providers won't be able to do the same with branded systems.

"If you can do something different that has value, people will pay for that," Davidson said.

The bottom line is that applications can load up to two times faster using a combination of DDR and these alternative types of memory, according to McDonald. Moreover, Intel Turbo Memory can help extend battery life because the hard drive isn't called upon as often.

Davidson also said solution providers can expect Intel to continue to refine the notebook battery's role as a common building block that can be swapped between whitebooks through its relationship with Datamation Systems and to help support a fully functional port replicator -- the first one to come from Targus -- that will make desktop docking more seamless.

Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Toshiba, Gateway, Dell, Fujitsu and other vendors all launched new mobile PC products, including seven new mobility products from HP and a completely revamped ThinkPad from Lenovo.

"Intel has always been the leader, and with the introduction of a new CPU it will stimulate the market," said Teddy Chan, manager of Alliance Computers, a Hamilton, Ontario-based solution provider.

Chan said he believes the market hit a speed bump with the migration to Vista, but the addition of the new Intel platform could be a catalyst. "People will tend to look for newer technology, especially in the business segment," he said.

Other solution providers believe that while the new Intel platform will have an impact, it's only a part of the story.

"At this point, I don't think it's going to drive a lot of people to buy additional PCs," said Larry Vilim, a partner in Core Technologies, an Omaha, Nebraska-based solution provider. "I think Vista will have a lot more impact on driving PC sales as it becomes more and more accepted."

Still, a benefit of the new Intel platform will be to better enable more of Vista's features, Vilim added. "They are going to kind of go hand-in-hand together," he said.