Intel planning Centrino-like brand for desktops

Intel is preparing a marketing strategy that will brand desktop PCs with a similar label that made its Centrino notebook technology a household name, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

The new desktop marketing strategy will include two separate brands, one for the digital home and one for the digital office. Consumers will hear about the benefits of Intel technology for streaming video, wireless media serving, or securing a PC. Corporate customers would be pitched PCs that can be centrally managed and partitioned, in addition to the security features, these sources said.

The concept has worked well for notebooks. Centrino is a brand that represents three Intel products. Notebook vendors that sell Centrino notebooks are selling systems with the Pentium M processor, the Intel 855 chipset, and an Intel Pro/Wireless chip. Those vendors get additional money from Intel for advertising campaigns where Centrino notebooks and the Centrino logo are featured prominently.

Intel has already talked about what it calls the "platformisation" of the company, and plans to expand on that idea at a meeting for financial analysts in New York, next week. Just like Centrino, the desktop version of the campaign will try to develop a platform brand, rather putting the primary focus on the processor itself.

This desktop effort won't begin in earnest until mid-to-late 2005, when Intel starts rolling out dual-core processors and the silicon enhancements it calls the 'Ts'. These are abbreviations of code names such as LT, or LaGrande Technology, a hardware-based security feature that will store protected content. Another feature, iAMT, or Intel Active Management Technology, allows IT administrators to manage problematic PCs remotely.

The chipsets for dual-core processors and these silicon enhancements will become available around June of next year, when Intel traditionally rolls out new chipset technologies. The company probably won't activate some of those capabilities until software is available later in 2005 or 2006 that can take advantage of the technologies, but the marketing messages will be ready to go at that point.

Like Centrino, each of the desktop brands will be made up of individual parts. The processor and chipset are two obvious components, and Intel could revive its plans for embedded wireless access points into desktop chipsets as a third component. The company will also likely tout the graphics and audio technologies in its chipsets as part of the campaign.

An Intel spokesperson declined to comment on Intel's future plans for marketing its desktop chips, but said it was not out of the question that Intel would pursue such a Centrino-style strategy, given the success of that campaign, but the company has nothing definitive to say about its plans at this time.

Despite years of focus on next-generation mobile phones, notebook technology, the digital home, and high-end servers, chips for desktop PCs are still a major part of Intel's business.

Desktop PCs currently outsold notebook PCs by about 64 per cent to 36 per cent, director of research with NPD Techworld, Stephen Baker, said.

Notebook shipments were growing at a much faster rate, but many consumers and corporations still liked the simplicity of a low-cost desktop, he said.

Intel and its PC partners have traditionally sold desktops by pushing clock speed and performance, especially since the introduction of the Pentium 4 in 2000. The message was simple: clock speed goes up, performance goes up, user experience goes up.

But as Intel has found it harder to keep increasing the clock speed of its Pentium 4 processor in recent months, it has been forced to de-emphasise clock speed and focus on other components of processor design as indicators of performance.

Instead, Intel wants to enhance the user experience by improving the security of a consumer PC or the manageability of a corporate system.

Most mainstream desktop users rarely push against the performance limits of their systems, especially if all they are doing is browsing the Internet or composing word processing documents. Intel believes these users can be persuaded to buy new PCs to protect themselves against security threats or to set up home media networks.

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