For several years major computer component manufacturers have wondered if the success of system builders in the white box market can be replicated in making white books to meet the exploding demand for laptops.
This week resellers will be able to find out when Tech Data Canada opens new inventory under a program carrying the Intel stamp of approval.
One aim of program, which so far includes chassis manufacturers Asus, Compal Electronics and Quanta Computer, is to get vendors to agree to standardize parts or interconnects for components to lower costs.
But David Allen, Intel’s North American distribution sales manager, told reporters Tuesday the company’s plan also lets system builders fight brand names such as Dell, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard.
“We’re really allowing the channel to offer customized, differentiated notebook offerings with strong support that allow them to compete against major OEMs for the first time,” he said.
He believes the education market, which is price sensitive, could be one sector white books could be targeted at.
Intel is backing the program in two ways: First, to assure buyers, systems assembled using approved parts will carry a “Verified By Intel” logo. Second, to assure system builders the packages they assemble are solid, Intel will be the company they will call for component problems. VBI components will carry a two-year warranty.
“We’ve been encouraging resellers to get into the mobile business because the market is changing,” explained Doug Cooper, Intel’s Canadian manager.
Sales of laptops to consumers now exceeds desktops, he noted, and while desktops still outnumber laptops in the business market, that won’t last long.
“If resellers don’t react to the change they’re going to be left with a skill (building desktop PCs) that’s not longer viable,” he said.
The move could be what system builders and buyers need to legitimize white books, said Michelle Warren, an industry analyst with Evans Research of Toronto. Buyers, especially businesses, are staying away from white books because they are no-name brands.
“The biggest hurdle for them is the brand name,” she said. But if Intel’s assurance can get into the minds of buyers system builders will benefit.
So far seven building block components have been approved, including connectivity standards for hard drives, optical drives, LCDs, keyboards and a standard rechargeable battery. Not only is it hoped this will help keep costs down it will also make it easier for resellers to stock spare parts.
System builders here will only be able to order components through Tech Data Canada, which initially is the only approved distributor. To start off with they’ll have a choice of chassis that come with a motherboard and either 14.1-in. or 15.4-in screens, several Intel mobile CPUs, memory, a range of SATA or PATA hard drives from Fujitsu, Hitachi and Seagate, optical drives from Panasonic and Lite-On, and 2200mAh or 2400mAh batteries.
In a move which it says is aimed at keeping control of costs, Intel has has appointed BrightPoint Inc. of Plainfield, Ind.(www.brightpoint.com), as its master aggregator for the components for North America and Europe. Approved IT distributors (called Mobile Value-added Distributors) have to buy through BrightPoint.
Tech Data Canada was appointed an MVD, in part because it was already in the white book business through an agreement with a Compal division.
Ray Gonsalves, the distributor’s director of product management, said interest among Canadian system builders he’s talked to since Intel announced the VBI program was coming several months ago has been strong. “There’s a fair amount of anticipation in the channel,” he said.
VBI components will be in inventory by the end of the week, he said.
“What Intel has done is create a standard that ODM (original design manufacturers) can come aboard that allows interchangeability of components, which is the missing piece from the white book market,” he said. “Until now each ODM had proprietary parts. We’ve seen what that did for the white box market. We anticipate this will be a much more viable opportunity for system builders to build their own offering.”
He estimated system builders will see a 10-to-15 per cent saving with an approved component over a non-VBI component. However, he also noted that a number of components such as operating systems, memory and hard drives aren’t covered yet that could affect the overall price.
A deal on including Windows in VBI systems may not be far off. David said Microsoft Canada has “indicated they’re willing to sit and talk with us,” about special Windows pricing.
Gonsalves, however, is not overestimating the steep road system builders have to climb. “If you’d asked me two years ago about the white book market I’d have predicted it would have taken off to a much greater degree than it has.”
“Notebooks are a large and growing segment of the market and white books will either have a niche or mainstream place in it,” Said Gonsalves. “At this point they remain a niche.”
“VBI can possibly move them into the mainstream, but I anticipate Tier One manufacturers will be looking and competing with this offering as well.”
Intel also announced it is releasing a business PC platform for major manufacturers and system builders called vPro. It allows IT managers to better control and secure desktop computers through Intel’s Active Management and virtualization technologies. The platform requires using one of four Core 2 Duo CPUs and Intel’s 965 chipset.
vPro is supported by numerous vendors including Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Microsoft, Hitachi, CheckPoint Software, Hitachi, SAP and CA.
But Allen said system builders who provide remote desktop managed services will also be able to extend their offerings by taking advantage of desktops with the platform.