A recent innovation by a major player on the tech scene has provided custom system builders and integrators with a new tool-one that has the potential to make them true players in the notebook space. If it takes hold, the tool also promises to establish higher standards of quality and serviceability in the growing mobile computing ecosystem.
This boost for system builders comes in the form of two Intel-branded motherboards introduced earlier this year. Designed to support Intel Centrino 2 processors, the Intel Mobile Board MGM45WU (for business users) and MGM45RM (for consumers) are based on a new mobile motherboard form factor specification code-named Rich Creek 2. According to the Santa Clara, Calif.-based tech behemoth, the Rich Creek 2 platform introduces a mobile motherboard form factor that can be applied to motherboard and notebook chassis.
THE INTEL VISION
"Intel's vision for the mobile channel is centered on building a mobile ecosystem based on common ingredients such as mobile motherboards," according to a statement from Tom Rampone, vice president of Intel's sales and marketing group, and general manager for its channel platforms group. "These two new Intel-branded mobile motherboards take us closer to helping system integrators and ultimately end users build their own notebooks."
Rich Creek 2 (RC2) comes on the heels of two previous efforts by Intel to bring about some degree of standardization to the various components of notebooks. The "common building blocks" initiative focused on working with ODMs (original design manufacturers) to standardize specs for components such as battery packs, AC/DC adapters, LCD panels, and disk drives, with the subsequent VBI (Verified By Intel) program further expanding standards.
RC2 is an important new development for a number of reasons, according to Steve Maser, vice president of product development and marketing for North Syracuse, N.Y.-based Seneca Data, a custom computer manufacturer and value-added distributor of technology products and associated logistical services.
"We have sold custom notebooks for five years, and for that entire time we have been at the mercy of what the ODMs design and ship to us," Maser says. Historically, custom notebook system builders such as Seneca have basically bought a "bare-bones shell" anchored by an off-brand motherboard, he explains, "and you add in the processor, memory, a hard drive, some variation of the optical drive, an OS [operating system], and wind up with a product with a very generic look and feel."
NEW OPPORTUNITIES TO COMPETE
The new Intel boards comprise one element that can help take these notebooks beyond "generic." The ability to incorporate one of Intel's designed and supported motherboards, widely perceived to be the highest quality available in the market, to a notebook creates opportunities for custom system builders to better compete with the Dells and HPs of the world, according to Maser, who adds: "Without [the new Intel motherboards] coming into play, channel players like me and other system builders would be in a difficult position."
Intel's move is indeed good news for system builders and integrators that want to compete in the notebook arena, says David Forster, director of channel relations and RC2 project leader for Antec Inc., a Fremont, Calif.-based provider of computer components whose markets include system builders, VARs, and integrators.
This group "is a very large part of the computing business, especially in North America and Europe, and they've been kind of left out in the cold until now, sort of playing on the periphery," says Forster. "Now they are going to be able to compete for that [notebook] business in a real sense."
Using the Intel motherboard, Seneca Data began manufacturing its new Nexlink Carbon notebook line in September. The motherboard has opened the door to "multiple levels of customization," says Maser. "We are now able to build our notebook line just like we do our desktops and servers--100 percent to customer specifications."
The new motherboard gives notebook system builders more flexibility, be it to design their own chassis or add and delete features, Maser notes. "If the customer wants a notebook with features such as a fingerprint reader or a webcam, they get them. Or if they don't want a particular feature, they don't have to pay for something they don't want."
Meanwhile, Equus Computer Systems Inc., a Minneapolis-based builder of custom desktops, notebooks, servers, and workstations, has launched an open notebook product line called Nobilis MAX. These mobile systems are built on Intel's Montevina mobile architecture and RC2 platform, according to Joe Toste, the company's vice president of sales and marketing. "The introduction of these Rich Creek 2-based mobile systems is the culmination of the Intel common building block strategy," he says.
Building upon RC2 specifications, a new mobile product line from Antec includes two laptop chassis, AC adapters, and battery packs; components such as integral webcams and Bluetooth modules; and what Forster calls a "true" laptop docking station.
Maser notes that use of the new Intel motherboards should make servicing notebooks a faster and easier process than it is when no-name boards are used. "No longer do resellers need to send units back to the manufacturer," says Maser. "Instead, they can do the service work themselves. And what that means is the end user, the business owner, isn't going to be down and out [without a notebook] for a prolonged period of time, but can get back up and running as soon as possible."