Equus Offers Whitebooks Based On Intel Motherboard

The Intel mobile motherboard design, code-named "Jackson Bay," is Intel's first product in a push to standardize the motherboards used in mobile PCs in an attempt to finally duplicate in the whitebook space the success system builders have had in the desktop and server markets, said Joe Toste, vice president of sales and marketing for the Minneapolis-based system builder.

Custom system builders are assured that motherboards and enclosures built to a specific format are interchangeable, allowing them the ability to mix and match from multiple vendors, Toste said. However, he said that that capability has not been available to the notebook PC market.

Intel early last year launched the Verified By Intel, or VBI, initiative, and corralled a number of component suppliers and notebook PC ODMs to produce standardized components such as power supplies, batteries, and LCD panels.

However, each notebook PC ODM manufacturer makes barebones units with proprietary cases and motherboards, Toste said. "Inside, the connectors and the motherboards are all different," he said. "I have been telling the suppliers that they need to standardize their components like they do with desktops."

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That is starting to happen. Equus is using a barebones whitebook from Taiwan-based Mitac using Intel's mobile motherboard to build its new Nobilis N4030 and N4033 whitebooks, Toste said. The N4030 includes the Centrino 965GM chipset with Wireless N and Robson Turbo memory, while the N4033 is based on Centrino Pro technology, he said.

Equus is the first to offer notebook PCs with the Intel mobile motherboard design, but this is only the beginning, Toste said.

"Within the next 12 to 18 months, we will be able to buy packs of Intel mobile motherboards, and integrate them into various manufacturers' notebook PC shells," he said. "So instead of us going to the whitebook ODM and buying the whole thing, we can take the mobile motherboards and marry them to shells from different manufacturers, and give us more control."

The idea of Intel pushing for notebook PC motherboard standardization is "awesome," said Ben Kuncaitis, senior account manager of Standard Computer Systems, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based server and mobile PC integrator which works with Equus' whitebook products.

"We're excited because it would help us be a bigger player in school bids," Kuncaitis said. We expect laptops with the Intel motherboards to be even more reliable. We look forward to our laptops being as standardized as we preach to our desktop PC customers."

That Intel is pushing the standardization of whitebook motherboards is very important to Kuncaitis. "We've stuck with Intel because they have been a great partner since the '80s," Kuncaitis said. "We'd be fooling to say we'd never change. But we have a large eye open on Intel."

With Intel stepping into the mobile PC motherboard business, Kuncaitis said he expects fewer quality issues and increased driver availability for his whitebooks. "This is something that should have been done a long time ago," he said.

Dale Furnish, owner of Dale Furnish and Associates, a Spokane, Wash.-based solution provider which sources its mobile PCs from Equus, said that after dealing with multiple motherboard vendors over the years, he has come to the conclusion that moving to Intel settles nearly all issues.

"The way I see it, anything with Intel inside makes my job easier, and makes the customers happier," Furnish said.

It can be a real challenge to sell whitebox notebook PCs to customers, Furnish said. "We have to show the value of that notebook, and the value of fast local tech support," he said. "There are only a handful of manufacturers of the cases, screens, and keyboards used in notebook PCs. Dell doesn't make its own notebooks, but it has the brand name, which makes it hard to sell against them."

Toste said he expect to see multiple notebook PC shell makers come out with shells and LCDs built to the Intel mobile motherboard specifications, which will contribute to making the whitebooks more price-competitive.

"For barebones, you might now be paying $350 to $380," he said. "But it should be more like $225. Intel mobile motherboard in the long run will give us choice, and enable a broad channel to compete more effectively."

There is still a long road ahead before the whitebook market can really take off much like the whitebox PC market has done, Toste said. "Intel's desktop group is really committed to changing the ecosystem for mobile PCs," he said. "The Intel mobile motherboard is another milestone for Intel's approach to building the channel."

Kuncaitis said his company continues to depend on Equus for his custom-built mobile and desktop PCs and servers because Equus listens to his needs. "We feel like, if we move three-quarters of a million dollars in sales to IBM or Hewlett-Packard, it means nothing to them. But Equus is a pretty big player to companies like Microsoft and Intel."