The marketing efforts behind Intel's various platforms have met with differing degrees of success. While the Centrino mobile platform was one of Intel's more successful campaigns, it's safe to say that the Viiv platform for Media Center PCs has failed to resonate with PC buyers. The jury is still out on Intel's business platform, dubbed vPro. A vPro desktop must feature certain hardware attributes--starting with a Core 2 Duo processor--and will include IT management features that make it easier and less costly for organizations to monitor, protect, and maintain the PCs on their network. We focus primarily on consumer PCs here at CNET, but we took a look at this business PC from ZT Group because some aspects of vPro technology are expected appear on consumer desktops and laptops in the future. At $899, the ZT Group Reliant VPX6001 represents a good deal for small businesses and larger enterprises.
At the heart of vPro is the second generation of Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT), which it embeds in the hardware and firmware of your PC, making it more effective than software-based IT management tools. AMT lets you remotely access the PCs on your company's network even when they are turned off or the OS has crashed, which helps keep IT costs down by reducing the number of desk-side visits your IT staff must make. This technology also makes it possible for IT managers to push updates to all the PCs on the network, whether they're on or off. In addition to alerting you to nasty bits of code on your network, AMT can also tell you when a hard drive or another component has failed.
Putting the V in vPro is Intel's virtualization technology, which is used to create a partition on your hard drive for the third-party security app of your choice. Virtualization is not a new idea--it's long been used to run two operating systems on one computer--but using it to make PCs more secure is new. A vPro PC contains what Intel calls a "virtual appliance," which is a tamperproof partition where a security app can run independently from the OS. It can stop malicious code before it gets to the OS itself.
Many security problems in large organizations occur behind the firewall when an employee connects an infected PDA or laptop to the network. vPro helps contain potentially harmful viruses and worms from spreading across your network by alerting you to the presence of a virus and isolating the affected machine or machines until the problem can be investigated. What's really cool about this is that the affected PC will still operate, so the employee can continue working while the PC is removed from the network, diagnosed and repaired, then reconnected to the network. Intel is collaborating with companies such as Symantec and Altiris to build apps for vPro PCs.
After security and manageability, the third tenet of vPro is energy efficiency. Basically, Intel can make the claim that a fleet of vPro PCs will do wonders for your company's electric bill because Intel's Core 2 Duo processors are much more energy efficient than older Pentium 4 chips. In addition to a Core 2 Duo CPU, the other hardware requirements for vPro are the Intel Q965 Express chipset and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.
The ZT Group Reliant VPX6001 is based on the entry-level chip in the Core 2 Duo line, the 1.86GHz E6300. The $899 system also includes 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 memory, a 160GB hard drive, and integrated Intel Q965GF graphics. These specs will suffice for most business users; if your job requires graphics-intensive tasks for content creation or other design work, you'll want better graphics and more memory at the very least. But as is, the Reliant VPX6001 will handle basic business apps and multitasking with no trouble, and it provides the needed specs to make the transition to Vista.
ZT Group sells the same system for $50 less at CompUSA. The only difference is the $849 ZT Group Reliant CI-V6001 at CompUSA includes a one-year warranty to the three-year policy that comes standard with the VPX6001 model on ZT Group's Web site. Also, the model on ZT's site lets you customize the system. As configured, the ZT Group Reliant VPX6001 is a fair deal. We priced out a similarly configured Lenovo ThinkCentre M-series machine, and it cost nearly $200 more. On the other hand, a comparable PC from Gateway cost about $15 less.
The Reliant VPX6001 is housed in your basic midtower chassis, but it does include a couple items that you don't see in every business PC: For one, it has a media card reader--a feature more commonly found on consumer PCs. For another, the standard optical drive is a DVD burner. Inside the case, there's ample room for upgrades. A x16 PCI Express slot means you can add in a graphics card, and there is a x1 PCI Express slot alongside two legacy PCI slots for other expansion cards. The system's 1GB of memory is on one DIMM, leaving three open slots for adding more memory. There's also room for a second optical drive and three more hard drives.
We were surprised to find eight USB 2.0 ports (two in the front, six in back) and a 6-pin FireWire port; you typically find fewer USB ports and an absence of FireWire ports on a business PC. In case your office is still getting mileage out of an ancient printer, the system provides a legacy parallel port. The only video port you get, however, is a VGA connector. Networking is done by way of the Gigabit Ethernet jack; there is no modem jack. A basic Logitech keyboard and wired, optical mouse are also included.
The software bundle doesn't include a productivity suite, though you can choose to add one via ZT Group's site, but it does provide security software in the form of Wave System's Embassy Trust Suite, which works with the system's Trusted Platform Module (TPM) security chip. You also get Diskeeper 9 Home Edition, a PC maintenance utility; FarStone's RestoreIT for data backups; and SyAM's Desktop Monitor, which gives your IT department the ability to monitor the PCs on your network. VoIP conferencing is part of the vPro platform, which is why Skype comes preloaded on the system. We could do without the desktop shortcuts, however, to special offers for Packet8 and Yak VoIP services.
The ZT Group Reliant performed about as we expected, trailing pricier, AMD-based systems from Dell and HP but clearly outpacing a low-end eMachines PC, which uses a first-generation Intel dual-core chip. We would have liked to have seen a better score on our Office Productivity benchmark, but its strong showing on our Multitasking test assuaged any fears we had about the system keeping pace in a busy office environment.
ZT Group backs the Reliant VPX6001 system with a three-year warranty. You can upgrade the three-year parts-and-labor coverage to include onsite service for the first year for a very reasonable $50, and it costs only $130 to extend onsite service for the full three years. ZT Group's Web site includes some FAQ pages, troubleshooting tips and manufacturer links for drivers you might need. You can e-mail tech support, but there is no live chat option, one of our favorite methods of getting an answer from a company without remaining on hold or waiting for a response to an e-mail. Toll-free phone support is available weekdays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)