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Intel pushes for conformity in notebooks

At IDF Taiwan, chipmaker says the first set of notebooks adhering to its new component specs will ship soon.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--The adoption of common specifications will help drive industry adoption of notebooks and push costs down, according to a senior executive from Intel.

During his keynote address here Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum Taiwan, Bill Siu, vice president and general manager of the channels platform group, said that unlike for desktops, there are no ingredient or component standards for mobile PCs. This often leads to uncompetitive pricing and higher support costs, he noted.

To address what Siu described as "infrastructure pain points," Intel in 2004 introduced its Common Building Block (CBB) program for specifications in hard-disk drives, optical-disc drives and LCD panels. The initiative aims to establish consistency in components used in notebooks, regardless of who manufactures them, so that assembly cost and time-to-market can be reduced.

This year, the CBB program has added four more specifications--ones for battery packs, power adapters, keyboards and customizable notebook panels.

According to Siu, the first set of notebooks carrying components that adhere to all the seven common specifications will begin shipping within the next two weeks. These 11 design laptop models will be offered by three of the biggest manufacturers in Taiwan: Asus, Compal and Quanta Computer. These design models can then be adopted and manufactured by hardware makers such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

The CBB program ensures that components are built to deliver optimized performance on Intel machines and that hardware makers can go to more than one supplier for their components, Siu said.

Matt Haller, Intel's director of system ingredient enabling for the mobile platform group, said the specifications are designed for multiple generations of technologies. For example, a CBB-based battery pack can cater to high or low cell capacities depending on the prevailing configurations.

According to Siu, there are currently more than 25 component suppliers involved in the CBB program, the majority of which are based in Taiwan.

He added that there will be a "gradual buildup of an ecosystem of products over the next several months" and a substantial number by midyear.

Intel is also likely to provide direct service support to customers that buy from smaller manufacturing partners through its "Verified by Intel" program, which has yet to be officially launched.

In other announcements at the IDF this week, the chipmaker has sealed several partnerships in the home entertainment market, including regional hardware and content providers for Viiv, according to Don MacDonald, the company's vice president and .

Content partners, which include, primarily provide content such as TV, movies, music and games. MacDonald said Intel has also introduced a new service from Taiwanese player HiNet that will debut at the end of April, offering games and an e-learning platform to Viiv users.

Intel was initially expected to make some major announcements on new content agreements at this week's IDF, but did not do so. According to a company representative, Intel is in discussions with Taiwanese broadcasters but these partnerships are not ready to be announced.

Vivian Yeo of ZDNet Asia reported from Taipei, Taiwan.