Intel is currently considered by many in the commercial world as the gold standard for client computing processors, and the apex of that capability is the company’s Intel Core vPro line for enterprise PCs. The company recently released the 10th Gen of these mobile and desktop processors. While Intel has had much more competition than it would probably like over the past year, primarily on the consumer side of the client computing business, it is still the company to beat on the commercial side. The launch of these new 10th Gen vPro platforms raises the stakes yet again—let’s take a closer look.
Secure on the edge
The major difficulty when designing a business computing platform is achieving enterprise-grade security while also providing a connected experience. For that matter, the way businesses connect is a moving target. As 5G becomes more prevalent, it will inevitably change the way devices are connected on the edge. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, an increasing number of people were leaving the office for coffee shops. Now, more people than ever are working from home. These developments make security and connectivity just as important as battery life and durability for businesses as they consider computer offerings. Intel’s 10th Gen Core vPro processors look to address that on a fundamental level and it’s not just about performance or battery life or, for that matter, price.
Hackers these days are targeting security vulnerabilities under the OS. To provide added cover, the new generation of vPro features expanded Hardware Shield security features, which include:
· Runtime BIOS Resilience
· Trusted Execution Technology
· System Security Report
· System Resource Defense
· Threat Detection Technolog
· Virtualization Technology
· Trusted Platform Module 2.0
Hardware Shield promises to utilize these capabilities to lock down critical resources and reduce the attack surface of the system, while also providing hardware acceleration to enable what Intel calls “uncompromised productivity.” I like that expression as so often security gets in the way of productivity. If you’ve never worked for a large company with a managed fleet of PCs it’s hard to know what I’m talking about here. Enterprises add layers of software “goo” which protects the PC but also tends to slow it down. Want to connect to the network? Better fire up that VPN which also slows everything down. So, the key (and challenge) is to be secure and productive.
One of this solution’s key differentiators is that it enables the OS to interact with the BIOS to see how it is using hardware. Another part of Intel’s security strategy at the hardware level is its “Transparent Supply Chain”, which helps ensure all system components are authentic and traceable to their origins. While I can’t cover every in and out here, think of the need to know the state of every chip in the system and even know if the system has been tampered with at different times in the lifecycle. This is what TSC is all about. You can imagine how important this becomes if and when PCaaS or DaaS gets more mature with higher take rates. During Covid-19, many regulated industries weren’t able to dip into the used PC market for their employees as they couldn’t guarantee the security. This why many had to go VDI.
Best in class Wi-Fi 6 technology
All Intel Core processors feature integrated Wi-Fi 6, which Intel refers to as “Gig+”. In addition to its next-generation authentication and military-grade encryption, Wi-Fi 6 provides four times greater capacity and scalability than the previous generation (802.11ac) and is around three times faster. Although Wi-Fi 6 is a feature that can be obtained outside of vPro, its integration into the platform offers the user better security by eliminating another potential physical point of attack. As I mentioned before, people are working less in the office, where you can typically depend on a secure connection. External Wi-Fi networks, on the other hand, are open and insecure. While nothing beats a secure office connection, Wi-Fi 6 has built-in security features for open networks that mitigate some of the attack vectors within the standard (though both the device and router must be Wi-Fi 6 enabled). To top it off, Wi-Fi 6 is the best Wi-Fi connectivity available for video conferencing—a hallmark of the age of COVID-19. Now, more than ever, I believe Wi-Fi 6 is a must-have for remote work for enterprise platforms.
The fastest vPro generation to-date
All of Intel’s 10th Gen Core processors are built on Intel’s mature 14nm architecture. Although it is behind some of its competitors’ offerings in a few regards, Intel’s 10th Gen Core vPro processors (and the whole 10th Gen portfolio) have an advantage when it comes to maturity and projected battery life. We all really need to see systems to compare.
The new 10th Gen vPro line includes the mobile U-Series, mobile H-series, and desktop S-series of business processors. The high-end H-series processors go up to 8 cores and 16 threads, with a 45W TDP, while the mainstream U-series goes up to 6 cores and 12 threads, with a variable TDP. For comparison, last year’s Intel 9th Gen Core vPro H-Series had up to 8 cores and 16 threads (and there was no 9th Gen Core vPro U-Series).
Meanwhile, the desktop S-series tops out at 10 cores and 20 threads, with the high end topping out at a 125 TDP. Intel’s desktop processors include Core i5, Core i7, Core i9, and Xeon processors, which all support the vPro platform.
Project Athena for business is important
Intel is also working to integrate the security and business features of vPro with Project Athena—the company’s experience initiative to develop advanced, thin and light business laptops designed for adaptability, always-readiness, and productivity.
The way Project Athena works is essentially this: Intel partners with OEMs to optimize and certify their devices in accordance to the project’s standards around real-world battery life, the inclusion of an instant wake feature, and lighting fast connectivity. Intel’s 10th Gen Core processor is the first generation of Intel Core processors to be Project Athena-certified.
Project Athena, at its heart, seeks to address the device needs of the ever-growing remote workforce. The vPro platform’s Project Athena certification could give it an edge over competitors if the company and its partners can show a definitive experiential difference they don’t have on non-Athena PCs. This could be a challenge as OEMs may have a hard time or won’t want to call a line “lesser.”
While performance is a major factor when considering a device, it isn’t everything in the enterprise market. The reputation for security and reliability take precedent, which is why I believe Intel holds most of the enterprise notebook market today. Enterprises take longer than consumers to make any kind of big switch. They want to go with a company they can trust. Intel having thousands of feet on the street consistently for 25 years helps a lot.
I do want to briefly touch on the vPro’s management capabilities, because they are interesting. Its Active Management Technology (AMT), enables remote system maintenance, both proactive and reactive. Additionally, its Endpoint Management Assistance (EMA), enables businesses to remotely, securely manage employee devices inside or outside of the office, via the cloud.
Intel says these offerings have the potential to decrease security events during a device’s lifecycle. I agree, particularly versus prior vPros as they should speed up response times, enable automated patch updates, enable same-day-service, and achieve quicker resolutions. Both AMT and EMA should be very appealing to businesses, especially given the current risks involved COVID transmission and face-to-face contact.
While I believe few will actually deploy these features, IT feels more comfortable if they’re there in case they need them.
Overall, I believe Intel’s 10th Gen Core vPro processors will bring a new level of performance and features to enterprise-class devices. For an increasingly mobile and remote workforce, security and reliability is a must. As such, Hardware Shield and Wi-Fi 6 support make the 10th Gen vPro a smart choice for businesses adjusting to the new normal of telework. Lastly, vPro’s Project Athena-certified consistency and battery life could also give vPro a competitive edge, but I really need to try out competing solutions to fully assess.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman and other writers contributed to this article.