Intel: Channel Innovation Critical In Driving Small Form Factor PC Sales

Intel is relying on its Technology Provider base to drive small form factor PC sales in the commercial segment.

John Deatherage, director of product marketing at Intel, told CRN that the channel's skill sets and vertical expertise mean partners can easily scope out specific business-use applications for small form factor PCs.

"Our channel partners are key … for Intel's small form factor PCs," he told CRN in an exclusive interview before the Intel Solutions Summit this week in Kissimmee, Fla. "The channel's fast and nimble -- it's all about innovation. Partners have good ideas for small form factors and creative new applications. My message is for partners to keep doing that, and we will keep providing the innovative building blocks."

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With its new enthusiast-focused Skull Canyon NUC (Next Unit Computing) and Skylake Core M-packed Compute Stick, Intel is continuing to place big bets on small form factor PCs.

Intel is showcasing its latest small form factors, including the NUC and Compute Stick, at its conference this week.

Its newly unveiled Skull Canyon NUC, which will start at $650 and become available in May, will be available to the channel, and will contain better performance and graphics for the enthusiast and workstation segments.

On the processor front, Skull Canyon packs a sixth-generation Intel Core i7-6770HQ processor that expends 45 watts, and is a higher-end processor than those in previous NUCs.

Intel also aimed to woo enthusiasts with a new integrated higher-end Iris Pro graphics 580 chipset, giving the NUC 30 times better 3-D graphics than its previous version, according to Intel.

Intel will also be showing off its Compute Stick, which the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company dubs its "PC on a stick form factor."

The $150 Compute Stick is essentially a USB drive for HDTVs and monitors that can double as a low-powered Windows 8.1 PC.

Most recently, Intel lifted the curtain on new renditions of the Compute Stick -- this time sporting Intel's new, more powerful Core m3 and Core m5 Skylake processors.

These new Compute Sticks, which will be available in May, offer higher performance and a more powerful computing experience, said Deatherage.

Since it came out in 2015, more than 1,500 partners in Intel’s North American Technology Provider base have attained Compute Sticks and are looking at new ways the devices can fit into their customers' businesses, such as digital signage.

Deatherage said partners would be critical in driving sales for these small form factor devices.

"We believe that the small form factor is growing for the PC market. … We have innovative partners with creative ideas and we see all sorts of creative things happening with these devices," he said.

Partners applauded Intel's efforts in the small form factor space, particularly the company's new enthusiast-targeted NUC.

Josh Covington, director of marketing and sales at Velocity Micro, a Midlothian, Va.-based Intel partner that uses the NUC in its Velocity Mini, said Intel's innovations enable his company to explore new applications for the small form factor product.

"We market our Velocity Mini as an all-purpose home and office PC for customers in need of full Windows functionality, but with limitations on space," said Covington. "Previous generations of NUC have been ideal for home theater applications, digital signage and retail POS. But with this new Skull Canyon hardware, I really think those applications will be expanded."

Partners also praised Intel's addition of Thunderbolt 3, a critical new port for the NUC as it allows customers to use just one cable to connect to storage devices, 4K displays and high-speed memory devices. The addition of Thunderbolt 3 also makes the NUC attractive to the enthusiast segment by allowing users to connect to external discrete graphic solutions like the Razer Core.

"From the connectivity side, I'm also happy to see Thunderbolt, which will give consumers tons of options for bleeding-edge peripherals," Covington said.