This review appears in the December 06 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.
The first vPro system we've seen (see Intel vPro: the next big thing?, below), Evesham's VP is an excellent PC. With full vPro compliance and an installation of the XP Pro OS (operating system), this machine is ideally set up for business users. It's very secure and easy to manage (not to mention fairly quiet in operation), but it also happens to be a rather good PC in its own right.
Coming in a sleek black desktop (rather than tower) case, the VP Pro holds an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 processor and 1GB of DDR RAM, so it's quite capable of flying through most business tasks – its WorldBench score was a very satisfactory 130. The Intel onboard graphics controller isn't the most impressive of performers, but it's still ample for everyday Windows use. And, since it's part of the vPro kit, it is designed to be fully compatible with Windows Vista, should you wish to upgrade.
The ports and connectors include six USB and two FireWire ports, although the video interface is RGB-only – no DVI (digital visual interface) connection is included. The onboard sound is a cut above the usual, though.
Intel vPro: the next big thing?
Chip giant Intel has looked after mobile users. It's also looked after home entertainment users. Now, with its vPro brand, the company is aiming to bring out a range of technologies and measures that make the life of the business user considerably easier.
Like Centrino, buying a system that's vPro-compliant gives you guarantees about far more than simply the type of processor, although any system carrying a vPro badge must have a CPU from the new Intel Core 2 Duo E6000+ range – a good thing in our books, since the high-performing Core 2 Duos offer speed and energy savings.
In addition, vPro systems must use the Intel Q965 Express chipset and come with an 82566DM Gigabit network connection. More pertinently for business users, any vPro system will be required to support Intel’s VT (Virtualisation Technology), and version 2.0 of the company’s AMT (Active Management Technology).
AMT has been around since 2005. Its aim is to allow IT managers to monitor any PCs on the network, and diagnose problems and repair them without having to be in front of the system.
The technology provides a huge amount of control over networked machines, making it far easier for managers to apply software updates, for example. It also allows IT administrators to power a PC up or down, and even fix a system that's crashed.
Version 2.0 of AMT (which is mandatory in any vPro-compliant system) is rather more sophisticated. It can perform checks to ensure that management and security agents on a PC aren't disabled by the user or by malicious software. Should these features have been disabled, or should the technology detect patterns that might be malicious, that PC can be isolated from the network and the IT manager notified. By creating a virtual wall around each individual PC, AMT will make it very difficult for rogue machines to rampage around the network undetected and unfettered.
VT, on the other hand, allows a PC to be split into two partitions. One will hold the user's desktop environment, while the other partition can be used for running special software-based appliances. These will be capable of exercising enormous control over management, security and communications. Already, big names such as Symantec and Altiris are working on appliances that will be able to show off VT's potential. You shouldn’t expect any of these to be available before 2007, but the prospects are exciting.
The idea of vPro makes a lot of sense. This raft of technologies should make it much easier for IT managers to look after the PCs in the network. According to Intel's figures, in the average business 20 percent or more of machines are hidden from view through PCs being switched off, tampered with or having an operating system fault. VPro will flag these PCs up and make them much easier to fix without the IT manager having to be in front of the system.
Security will also be vastly improved. Even simple tasks, such as keeping up with software and security updates, will be easier, and it'll be harder for rogue PCs to wreak havoc on the network. Happily, it looks as though the vPro badge won’t add much to the price, either: the Evesham VP demonstrates that the technology can provide a lot of gain for business users and considerably less pain.