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Review: Intel's technology branding

by Tarinder Sandhu on 1 June 2006, 15:44

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qafuy

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Centrino, Viiv, vPro

Intel's technology branding

Intel's been on a mission of late. That mission revolves around grouping and standardising key technologies under various banners that are designed to ensure hardware compatibility and consumer ease of use.

We'll take a closer look at three such technologies that fall under the headings of Centrino, Viiv, and vPro, respectively.

Intel Centrino Technology



Chances are that you've come across Centrino branding before. In a nutshell, Centrino is the umbrella term given to a specific combination of Intel mobile CPUs, associated chipsets and wireless connectivity. First introduced with the Pentium M processor, having Centrino certification is Intel's way of informing the consumer that the key constituents of a notebook have been tested to work flawlessly with one another. Integrators can them take them as a base, knowing that they've been validated via Intel's stringent testing, and engineer notebooks around them.

The initial Centrino release centred around the Pentium M CPU, i855PM/GM chipsets, and the 2100 PRO/Wireless card. Subsequent product refreshes, including 'Sonoma' and 'Napa' have changed each constituent part of Centrino Technology but, and here's what important, each update carries the same inter-product validation. You can see the progression of the Centrino platform here.

Centrino Technology, then, has allowed Intel to control the quality of the most-important parts that make up a certified notebook. Users, then, needn't worry if a certain CPU will work effectively with a chipset and wireless module manufactured by a third party.

The latest-and-greatest Centrino incarnation revolves around Intel's Core Duo CPUs (dual-core, codenamed Yonah), Intel 945 Express chipset, and PRO/Wireless 3945ABG network connection. The low-power and high performance nature of the combination allows the Centrino brand to be used in laptops that range from the ultra-portable (sub-1.5kg) to desktop-replacement laptops with discrete graphics (4kg+), so it's an all-encompassing standard.

Centrino Technology will continue to evolve with new product releases from Intel. Later on this year, Intel will rollout its fastest notebook processor to date, dubbed Core 2 Duo, which will be a drop-in upgrade for existing Napa-certified notebooks.

The next time you see the Centrino branding on advertisements you'll know that it's an Intel-validated mobile platform that takes the guesswork out of core component compatibility.

Intel Viiv Technology



Much like the Centrino platform is designed to ensure seamless mobile connectivity and performance, Viiv, which rhymes with 'five', is Intel's attempt at standardising the core equipment that, it feels, is needed to take full advantage of the burgeoning digital entertainment market.

Hardware-wise, a Viiv-compliant system requires the use of an Intel dual-core processor based on its advanced 65nm process. HEXUS' benchmarks have shown, time and again, that dual-core CPUs are especially suited to media-related activities, so it's a sensible inclusion. It's important to note that Intel is happy to recommend any of its dual-core CPU, be it desktop or mobile, for Viiv usage.

Again, similar to Centrino's requirements and hardly surprising, Intel requires the use of its own chipset that features the ICH7-DH (Digital Home) southbridge for its dual-core desktop processors and 945G Express chipset for mobile parts. Both provide native support for High-Definition Audio (HDA) and an instant on/off feature (after initial bootup) via the use of the company's Quick Resume Technology and compatible remote control. Keeping the Intel theme going and the coffers full, Viiv also requires an Intel PRO Client LAN and Intel's media server software. Intel, however, leaves the choice of TV tuner card up to the system integrator.

What Intel is attempting to do is to verify and validate the infrastructure it thinks is needed for the rapidly expanding digital media world. The vision is of an Intel-powered box that sits in your living room and allows you to seamlessly access content, be it gaming, music, or movies/TV. The hardware and underlying software technology (Microsoft Windows MCE) are already in place. The real challenge will lie with working with software companies to facilitate quality content delivery, which, frankly, is the important part. Intel claims that over 40 companies offer content that is verified to work with Viiv PCs and we expect that number to grow substantially in the coming months.

The ideal attributes for a Viiv box, as far as we can discern, would be a fanless Intel mobile dual-core CPU-powered PC that's housed in a sleek Hi-Fi-style chassis, complementing other multimedia devices in your living room. Viiv is an interesting concept that's been taken aboard by many system integrators already. The present challenge is in educating the general public that PCs can be a do-it-all interface for all your digital multimedia needs.

Intel vPro Technology



Intel's vPro Technology can also be considered as a validated platform/brand for business users who seek to add greater levels of manageability, security and performance to their existing network.

Talking first about manageability in relation to business PCs, vPro, once installed, has built-in remote manageability that in conjunction with Active Management Technology (AMT) allows an administrator to wake a PC up from a remote console, install the various software updates deemed necessary, and then return the system(s) back to the original sleep state. This feature, obviously, can be carried out over multiple vPro-supporting PCs at one time, and Intel AMT allows individual PCs to be updated without affecting the rest of the network.

vPro's also big on business security. Leveraging its Virtualisation Technology (VT) on both a hardware and software level, Intel's vPro will allow administrators to run multiple hardware-isolated operating systems on a single partition. One real-world implication of VT is in the ability to concurrently run an isolated partition that features, say, security software. VT ensures that it's a hardware-based solution that's invisible to the general OS (it's run from a dedicated, isolated partition, of course) and therefore immune from attacks that attempt to disable security software on the main OS. In addition to this, vPro puts forward the use of nonvolatile memory, another hardware-based space designed to protect critical data from malicious attacks. Further, we've seen that AMT can be used to update software remotely, supplementing the OS with security updates.

Performance, Intel reckons, will be gained by using its next-generation of desktop CPU, currently codenamed Conroe. It will support the necessary Virtualisation Technology and 64-bit addressing as standard, and its wider dynamic execution core offers higher work-per-clock-cycle than the current Pentium 4 Presler. Just take a peek at our first-look results for confirmation.

Essentially, Intel vPro, much like Centrino and Viiv, is a collection of technologies and tools, empowered by Intel-verified hardware, that form the basis for enabling business PCs with greater security, manageability and, with the upcoming Conroe architecture, performance.

Summary, and understanding Intel's vision

Intel's nomenclature is more than just branding. It has identified key attributes for each platform. For example, you may know that Centrino's key vectors, or attributes, are performance, battery life, connectivity, and, optimally, a thin-and-light form factor. Each new iteration of Centrino, then, is an attempt to improve each vector without negatively impinging upon others. Viiv's vectors can be defined as ease of use, harnessing the broad spectrum of entertainment on a PC, and maximising the vast array of content that's going digital, so each progression of the Viiv standard, like Centrino, seeks to add better hardware and software support to enable Intel to better meet its stated vectors. We already know that performance, manageability and security define vPro.

Platform branding is here to stay. Time will tell just how well Intel has met its stated goals, and, we feel, that branding of this kind is more than a mere marketing trick; there's genuinely useful innovation underneath each sticker.


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