Key Business Features
As mentioned, Intel supports a wide array of motherboard solutions, each sporting a different collection of features catering to a somewhat different audience. In the past, Intel has occasionally been accused of being slow to adopt cutting edge features, and this has been true in a sense. Especially for business buyers, Intel wants to provide a suitable amount of time to make sure that a given feature is going to be widely supported by the market (e.g., integrating eSATA ports when there are plenty of eSATA drives). Integrating features too soon may only add cost, complicate designs, and add unnecessary support concerns without any commensurate, real world benefit to the user.
Still, Intel makes sure not only to integrate modern “must-have” features but plenty of others besides. Some of these include:
USB 3.0. With a theoretical top speed of 5 Gb/s, USB 3.0 is ten times faster than its 2.0 predecessor. That may not matter when you plug in a mouse or keyboard, but if you’re a mobile worker who wants to run applications from a flash drive or transfer a 15 GB presentation to an external hard drive, USB 3.0 will let you run those apps at natural speed and complete those transfers in a fraction of the former copy time. This means you spend more time being productive and less time waiting.
Dual LAN. Some high-end Intel motherboards offer two Ethernet ports. This can provide connection redundancy (in case one port fails) as well as the ability to bond channels for higher performance.
DisplayPort. This is the new and coming replacement for DVI and VGA. DisplayPort offers many feature advantages over legacy formats, including higher bandwidth and the ability to support multiple displays from a single cable. Intel and other vendors have announced that they will no longer use DVI and VGA ports by 2015, so the time to start transitioning to the new format is now.
Dual Graphics. Studies have shown that having a multi-monitor workstation can yield significant user productivity gains compared to single-display systems. This is why Intel enables all of its business motherboards with dual-monitor output support.
Trusted Platform Module (TPM). Many Intel motherboards integrate TPM functionality, using discrete logic for secure encryption. The TPM moves the encryption process from software to hardware, greatly improving security against outside attack.
Intel Active Management Technology (AMT) and vPro. Descended from years of development in Intel’s server products, AMT involves several hardware features throughout the CPU, chipset, and LAN controller that allow remote administrators to have out-of-band management over client systems. Out-of-band means that even if the PC’s operating system is down and unresponsive, an admin can still track, troubleshoot, patch, and repair a system with AMT from anywhere in the world. AMT is a subset of the motherboard features Intel markets under the vPro brand umbrella.
“With the newer versions of AMT, we also now have KVM—short for keyboard, video, mouse,” says Intel product marketing engineer Stephen Bigbee. “We’ve all had times where people call you and their system’s not working. It’s hard to understand what they’re describing because you can’t see it. With KVM, you can remote into their system, see what they see, and take over their screen. It’s just so much easier. If the LAN driver goes down, remote manageability is dead on a normal system. But with AMT, you don’t need those drivers. KVM lets you feel like you’re right there, fixing the system.”
Lucid Virtu. Many sites, including Tom’s Hardware, have found Intel’s Quick Sync (embedded within new Sandy Bridge CPUs) to be easily the fastest, highest quality transcoding technology available on desktops today. Virtu allows users to leverage Intel integrated graphics for tasks such as transcoding and switch to a discrete graphics card for tasks such as gaming.
BIOS Vault. Having a BIOS update interrupted in mid-operation is the kiss of death for a motherboard—unless that board has a backup BIOS standing by. BIOS Vault provides this backup, ensuring that users can regularly update their platforms without fearing mishaps.
Fast Boot. Fast Boot is a BIOS-level feature on some Intel motherboards. When enabled in conjunction with an SSD, Intel’s Bigbee notes that system boot times can drop to an average of only 12 seconds.