Intel ponders business PC brand

Chipmaker considers a third major brand name to carry promise of PC security, management ease.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--First came Centrino for laptops with wireless networking. Next was Viiv for home entertainment computers. Now Intel is considering a third major brand for business PCs.

"We're looking at whether we should do something in that arena," Anand Chandrasekher said in an interview Thursday with CNET reporters at Intel headquarters here.

Although he wouldn't commit to the idea, he directed attention to past Intel patterns that could indicate such a move is likely. Intel "telegraphed" its Centrino and Viiv branding well in advance, describing a set of tasks the platforms are designed to make easy, Chandrasekher said. He then did some telegraphing of his own for business PCs, pointing to "embedded IT" features including manageability, security and virtualization that Intel believes are central to using PCs in business environments.

Launching a business PC brand would be a new, major step in Intel's attempt to position itself as a company that sells not merely processors but instead technology packages called platforms for specific computer uses. Essentially, Intel is claiming ownership of a larger fraction of what goes inside a PC and assuming responsibility for more of what it can do and its ease of use.

Intel's platform technology push and its associated branding efforts gained prominence with a 2005 reorganization under Paul Otellini, then president and now chief executive.

One logical time to introduce the brand would be at the third-quarter launch of a business PC platform code-named Averill, which combines the dual-core "Conroe" desktop processor with the "Broadwater" chipset and 1 gigabit-per-second Ethernet networking.

Averill systems feature Intel's Active Management Technology, which enables remote administration tasks, and Virtualization Technology, which makes it easier for a computer to run multiple operating systems in separate partitions, such as a tamper-proof domain to let administrators service a PC.

Intel's primary concern is making sure its technology works, but brands still play an important role at the Santa Clara, Calif., company. Although many electronics companies are content being obscure component suppliers--who can say what processor is at the heart of a given mobile phone?--Intel is more ambitious. The famous "Intel Inside" campaign gave the chipmaker a direct relationship with customers even though they buy computers from another supplier such as Dell or Toshiba.

The chipmaker has a "brand hierarchy," with Intel being the "master brand" at the top, Chandrasekher said. With the platform push, Intel inserted a middle brand layer, and beneath that are the "ingredient brands" such as Pentium or Core.

Previously, chip brands such as Pentium were higher up the pecking order, but platforms showed up in 2003 when Intel began selling Centrino--a processor and accompanying chipset and wireless networking technology. "With the launch of Centrino, we made that shift consciously," Chandrasekher said.

Intel has said that over time it likely will retire one of its best-known brands, Pentium. Indeed, the latest processors from the company bear an entirely different name--Core Duo and Core Solo.

Most recent Pentium processors use an underlying design called the NetBurst microarchitecture. With a new generation of processor models arriving in the second half of the year, however, Intel is introducing a new microarchitecture--one that sports the Core brand as well.

The use of "Core" signals that processors no longer get the branding limelight. "The idea behind it is that Core is the silicon core to these platform brands. It is the essence of what makes these platforms tick," Chandresekher said.

When it comes to servers, brands are a different matter, he said. Although Intel is working on server platforms, the company doesn't plan server platform brands.

"That is a segment of the market where they are more sophisticated and would dig into the details and not just listen to the brand-oriented message," Chandresekher said.

Although Xeon server processors will begin using the Core microarchitecture when the model arrives in the third quarter, they won't sport the Core brand the way desktop PCs do, Chandrasekher said.

"Xeon is a relatively young brand," he said. "We're investing a lot in terms of building that brand up. Brands take a long time to build."

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