Intel Set To Unveil Next-Gen Platforms, 'Inside 2007' Program

Looking to build on its channel momentum, Intel this week plans to unveil to partners its next-generation Centrino Duo and vPro platforms as well as its Intel Inside 2007 program.

At the Intel Solutions Summit 2007 in San Diego, executives will highlight emerging mobile, desktop and server opportunities for system builders and Premier partners based on the upcoming "Santa Rosa" Centrino Duo processor, which is expected to launch in May, sources close to the company said.

As part of that, Intel is preparing new Verified by Intel (VBI) chipsets based on the Santa Rosa platform to simplify the development of whitebooks, the sources said.

Intel is also expected to introduce new VBI form factors as a way to give system builders more flexibility for designing ultra-mobile PCs. The current VBI offerings are for 14.1-inch and 15.4-inch form factors. Yet Intel is expected to unveil 12-inch, 13-inch and 17-inch form factors and announce more manufacturers supporting VBI, sources said.

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The Santa Rosa platform consists of a more advanced Centrino Duo processor, support for 802.11n Wi-Fi, the new "Crestine" graphics chipset, vPro, and Intel's Advanced Management Technology (AMT) and "Robson" non-volatile memory technology, designed to boost performance.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant said it plans to make its vPro platform, code-named Weybridge, available in the second half.

Weybridge, to be based on the Intel Core 2 Duo E6x50 processor and Q35 Express chipset, is the first to incorporate Intel's Trusted Execution Technology, formerly code-amed LaGrande, new industry management specifications DMWG 1.0 and WS-Man, and enhanced security in AMT.

Intel's push on VBI and other initiatives such as vPro demonstrate the company's commitment to help system builders succeed in the fast-growing notebook and managed-services businesses.

Channel partners said it's important that Intel's VBI common building blocks are accepted and made more widely available to them because they expect a good share of PC growth over the next several years to come from notebooks, a segment now dominated by larger OEMs.

Partners can earn two to five points selling Acer notebooks vs. 20 percent on custom-designed VBI systems, so it's an important technology for many system builders.

"We're starting out slow on VBI, but we're betting on it," said Joe Toste, vice president of marketing at Equus Computer Systems, Minneapolis. "One distributor told us he wasn't trying to give us a notebook just like a mainstream tier-one notebook for $799, but that's exactly what the channel needs. VBI will baseline the competition so we can do services."

One source said Intel will ship its VBI 965 chipset to channel partners at the same time it ships the chipset to OEMs. That would represent a major time-to-market advantage for system builders, since the availability of VBI chipsets has typically lagged behind that of top-tier OEMs by three to six months, the source added.

"For us, Santa Rosa is a technology that we will certainly adopt as soon as our notebook vendors have such notebooks available," said James Huang, marketing manager at Amax Information Technologies, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder and contract manufacturer. "Again, OEM projects account for most of our revenue, while notebooks account for about 10 to 15 percent only. Therefore, VBI may not have much impact on us vs. with other customers. We simply offer whatever our notebook vendors have."

Santa Rosa and Weybridge are among several products and programs Intel is preparing for partners in 2007 and 2008.

In the fourth quarter of 2007 or first quarter of 2008, Intel is expected to release a series of new multicore "Bensley' Xeon processors, and a new mini ITX desktop board is due out in the second quarter of 2007.

Intel is also slated to highlight its soon-to-be launched Intel Inside 2007 marketing program for partners.

vPro, launched in September, is a hardware-software platform that combines the company's Core 2 Duo processors with its AMT, virtualization technology, Q965 Express chipset and 82566 DM Gigabit Network Connection.

Amax's Huang said vPro is a big play for his business, and he hopes Intel can extend its success to the notebook.

"The vPro corporate stable desktop platform helps us to secure quite a bit of corporate and education orders and OEM orders, where customers integrate the vPro system into their own value-add solutions for resell," Huang said. "On the other hand, we wish there was an Intel-based corporate stable notebook platform for our customers, just like the vPro, so that our customers do not have to face the daunting task of having to qualify new notebook systems every four to six months. The tier-ones already have such a corporate stable notebook platform, and some of our customers choose tier-one notebook systems instead.'

NEXT: Intel rises in the channel

Intel's standing in the channel has improved markedly over the past year, due in part to partner-focused initiatives like VBI and vPro, but more significantly, because it leapfrogged rival Advanced Micro Devices over the past 12 months with Core 2 Duo and the introduction of the industry's first quad-core processor, industry observers say.

One Gartner analyst said AMD gained significant channel momentum in the second half of 2006, but market leader Intel responded swiftly and deftly to the competition.

"Intel understood what was going on and righted the ship. Without question, Core 2 Duo absolutely resets the page of technical superiority," said Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius. "The buzz now is that AMD Athlons are a little long in the tooth and don't have the same flair as Intel."

But he and other observers note that the two chip makers constantly battle for superiority and the tables could turn again in AMD's favor.

AMD earned star status in the channel based on its Athlon 2X processors in the last 18 months but has seen its market share and support in the channel dampen in recent months because of its relatively stale product line, a new partnership with Dell and inventory problems that hurt system builders in the busy fourth quarter.

At US itek, one-third of systems use AMD processors, but they are typically sold to cost-conscious buyers who demand the lowest price, rather than to longstanding customers, said David Stinner, president of the Kenmore, N.Y.-based system builder and MSP.

Stinner said Intel started aligning with its systems builders like his firm three years ago and has built in impressive channel program and organization in that time.

"Hands down, Intel is doing better than AMD. I have a dedicated Intel rep, and my AMD rep has changed five times in the last five years. And two of the [AMD] reps said they support Opterons only. We wanted help with desktop solutions," he said.

"I still put all my efforts into Intel. I talk to a rep every week and do staff trainings," Stinner added. "I don't want to do that for two vendors."

And US itek is selling a lot more Intel processors than AMD processors, according to Stinner. The system builder has moved into selling Intel blade solutions and storage SAN solutions priced in the $30,000 to $50,000 range, he said.

"Intel was smart. They aligned their relationship with the channel three years ago," Stinner said. "AMD has no comparable solution."

Intel in part benefited from AMD's channel supply woes. AMD CEO Hector Ruiz has widely acknowledged that Intel picked up some market share AMD lost as a result of inventory glitches in the fourth quarter of 2006 that impacted smaller OEMs.

Tim Ulmen, product manager/sales at MidWest IT Solutions Group, a Wichita, Kan., system builder and solution provider, said the channel gains AMD made in the last several years are being turned back by Intel.

A year ago, AMD and Intel each accounted for 50 percent of MidWest IT's sales, but now Intel accounts for 70 percent of the system builder's business vs. 30 percent for AMD, Ulmen said.

"AMD was really cutting into Intel's business last year," he said. "It seems like AMD is working more with the big OEMs and not the smaller guys."

Industry analysts expect the two chip makers to continue leapfrogging each other on the technical and business sides for many years to come, and the tables can turn quickly in this market.

For example, by midyear AMD plans to ship its first set of quad-core processors that the Sunnyvale, Calif., company said will outperform Intel's comparable offerings by at least 40 percent.

"Intel has been making a significant comeback. Woodcrest is very competitive with AMD's processors, and [Intel was] first to market with quad-core. But we'll see a lot of technical leapfrogging going on. [AMD's wuad core] Barcelona is likely to have good-looking performance numbers and there's a good slice of the market that will buy whichever processor is looking the best this month," said analyst Gordon Haff of IT research firm Illuminata.

"I don't see AMD going down as long as they can continue to execute as they have been. But Intel isn't going to make their life easy," he added.