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May 19, 2010

Intel vPro technology—what is it all about?

If you follow chipmaker Intel, you know that the company not only loves code names, but also special technologies that are then used to market certain chips or chip families. At some point it was "with MMX" that made Intel Pentium chips special in hilarious commercials showing Intel engineers in astronaut suits. "Hyper-threading" was big for a while, and for the latest families of Core processors, Intel stresses "Turbo Boost." Another Intel technology that gets a little less attention is vPro, but vPro is now becoming part of the marketing message of some ruggedized mobile computing products that have been upgraded to include Intel's latest Core i5 and Core i7 processors.

So what is vPro all about?

vPro is an Intel technology platform that allows remote access to a PC regardless whether the computer is booted up or the power is even on. It is intended to allow remote management, monitoring and maintenance while maintaining strict security measures. While vPro componentry needs to be included in the processor, it's a platform rather than just a technology feature, one that requires a combination of chip, board, firmware and software. vPro also includes other Intel technologies such as Intel AMT (Active Management Technology), Intel Virtualization Technology, Intel's TXT (Trusted Execution Technology) and, of course, a network connection.

While remote access and management of PCs is commonly available through software such as VNC, VNC alone may not be capable and secure enough for all corporate purposes. With vPro, VNC can still be used, but it is now the Intel AMT part that facilitates secure communication with the PC, and in conjunction with the whole vPro platform, it is not only possible to control a remote PC, but aso to start it up and—even more amazingly—log in and perform certain function even if the OS is corrupted or missing. That's because the vPro engine/platform is available at a very low system level.

How can such vPro-based remote access be used? Well, there could be a system where dispatch sends job requests to a mobile computer in a filed office or a vehicle. The request will boot the computer if it is off, and then either perform a job or prompt an operator or driver to do the job and report back. It can then turn off the computer remotely, even shut down the OS. As long as the computer still has power, it remains remotely accessible (remotely waking up a PC is usually done via a hardwire LAN connection.

Panasonic highlights vPro in the recent introduction of its Toughbook 31 rugged notebook that use the vPro-enabled Intel Core i5 processor. Panasonic even features a video that shows the use of vPro technology between a dispatch with a vPro console and a Toughbook-equipped service truck. It demonstrates how the remote console can wake up the Toughbook, run a job, then shut it down again.

Motion Computing, too, stresses the advantages of vPro in their announcement of the upgraded Motion C5v and F5v tablet PCs, stating that vPro technology will enable their customers to experience enhanced remote management capabilities so IT can secure and/or repair a tablet from any location, even with power off.

So that's vPro, a set of technologies to remotely access and control computers securely. While remote access and control is not new, being able to do it securely, and with power down and no OS booted can definitely come in handy. Not everyone will need or use vPro, and setting things up for remote access and management is not entirely trivial, and so most users will simply enjoy the very significant performance increases of Intel's latest Core i5 and i7 processors.

Posted by conradb212 at May 19, 2010 04:18 PM