Intel bumps up core counts for 13th-gen vPro chips

'We don't think it's a luxury' veep tells The Reg

Intel wants enterprises to think upgrading to notebooks and PCs powered by its 13th-gen Core vPro processors isn't a "luxury" they can pass up without putting their businesses at risk.

The lineup of business-oriented CPUs, announced on Thursday, launches as PC demand continues to slow precipitously, and enterprises rethink their remote work policies amid mass layoffs.

Intel is clearly aware of these dynamics. During a press briefing on the launch held earlier this month Intel execs touted the chip's AI security functionality, higher core counts, and remote management functionality as something enterprises would be, so we're told, irresponsible to pass up.

We don't think it's a luxury, it's something that's a smart choice for you to do

"We hear a lot of people talking about, 'hey, I just can't refresh. It'd be nice to do, right, but I just can't afford,'" Michael Nordquist, Intel's VP of client planning and architecture, said.

"We don't think it's a luxury, it's something that's a smart choice for you to do."

Intel repeatedly drew attention to the potential for lost productivity, larger attack surfaces, and inadequate remote management functionality associated with sticking with older vPro systems. And that point of comparison is key, because beyond offering more and faster cores this time around, there's not all that much new to talk about.

The big upgrade here appears to be that Intel's vPro feature set is now available on its higher-core count Raptor Lake parts. Needless to say, if you're upgrading from a ninth or 10th-gen platform, these chips should offer a healthy boost in performance.

That's because compared to Intel's vPro lineup three or four years ago, the x86 giant has moved to a big-little core architecture that, through some software trickery in the operating system, automatically moves low-priority workloads and background tasks to the chip's efficiency cores, while reserving its higher-clocked performance cores for foreground tasks.

The problem for Intel, the performance advantage of its 13th-Gen vPro parts is also largely true of its last-generation Alder Lake vPro parts, which share a similar architecture and are already widely available.

More of the same

The real value behind Intel's vPro line up remains remote management and security functionality. But in this regard there's not a lot new here.

Intel hammered on hardware acceleration for threat detection during its press briefing. It claims the functionality integrates with select endpoint detection and response platforms from the likes of Crowdstrike to reduce the performance hit of detecting ransomware, crypto mining, and other attacks.

"Our latest platforms reduce the attack surface by close to 70 percent" compared to four-year-old PCs, Stephanie Hallford, veep of business client platforms at Intel, said during the press briefing.

While that may sound like a big improvement, it's worth noting that the features actually debuted on last year's 12th-Gen vPro lineup.

The chip giant also claimed improvements to the chip's remote management functionality, long a staple of Intel's vPro line. Using the platform, Intel says enterprise IT teams can now roll out new configs, schedule security, scans, and provision notebooks from anywhere in the world, without the need for a VPN connectivity.

The pitch is clearly directed toward enterprises juggling remote and hybrid workers. While post-pandemic, remote and hybrid work seemed like it was here to stay, over the past year that assumption has been called into question as numerous large enterprises reevaluate their policies. Just last month Amazon mandated that 300,000 corporate employees return to the office, "at least" three days a week.

Intel really needs to move product

Over the past few months we've seen Intel flood the market with 13th-gen parts. So far this year the company has announced more than four dozen CPU SKUs across its desktop and notebook lineups. A look at Intel's financials offers a clue why.

Intel has taken a beating over the past few quarters as worsening economic conditions have driven more conservative spending, and a slow down in PC sales. Last quarter the company posted a $700 million net loss as its revenues plunged 32 percent.

As you might expect, the company's Client Computing Group (CCG) bore the brunt of these losses, falling 36 percent year over year. And heading into the first fiscal quarter of 2023, the chip biz isn't expecting things to get much better. In fact, Intel's best case scenario calls for a 37 percent year-over-year decline in revenues. So it's not hard to see why it's pushing the merits of its vPro lineup so hard.

Unfortunately for Intel, PC and tablet sales aren't likely to recover any time soon. IDC now expects PC sales to fall another 11.2 percent during the 2023 calendar year. The reason? Thanks to easing COVID restrictions, people are spending their money elsewhere, meanwhile in the corporate sphere, many enterprises have just gotten their hands on equipment they ordered months earlier. ®

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