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Intel Rolling Recipe For Barebones Notebooks

Intel's upcoming ''Napa'' notebook platform could reshape the marketplace by leveling the playing field between low-cost builders of plain-vanilla systems and the traditional top-tier PC vendors.

Intel is working to level the playing field for whitebook builders.

Though top-tier manufacturers traditionally get first dibs on component supplies for new technologies, Intel is promising equal access for systems builders as it transitions to its next notebook platform, code-named Napa, beginning late this year.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company is working with internal groups as well as a variety of suppliers to ensure components and “barebones” models are available to the systems builder channel right away, Steve Dallman, senior director of channels at Intel, told CRN last week. “We are trying to make sure they have components at the same time as the leading companies,” he said.

Intel’s move underscores the importance of the growing whitebook market. Notebook sales significantly outpace desktop sales in the business and consumer spaces. Systems builders are beginning to shift their focus to whitebooks as customers continue to request mobile form factors as desktop replacements.

“Intel is trying to make custom notebooks more like a typical white box, where there are a variety of interchangeable parts that can be used,” said one system builder who requested anonymity.

To compete against top-tier vendors, systems builders will need to move to new platforms at the same time as those vendors. Traditionally, there has been a components lag for systems builders during technology transitions because top-tier vendors scoop up all the parts, which are often in short supply during the initial launch.

Wintec Industries, Fremont, Calif., believes Intel’s “enhancement” to its partner program will keep it competitive during the transition to Napa. “Supply is one of the key elements of time to market with new platforms,” said Richard Stafford, Wintec’s senior marketing manager. “It’s critical.”

The news is particularly welcome, some systems builders said, because there are only a handful of manufacturers in Asia making mobile motherboards and chassis. Those companies tend to favor working with large-volume, top-tier vendors. Intel’s backing of the channel should help expand options.

“There is only so much you get from two or three OEMs that also sell to tier-one,” one systems builder said.

Napa will be Intel’s second technology refresh after the popular Celeron mobile release. The platform is based on the dual-core, lower-power Yonah processor, which is expected to significantly increase processing power while holding the line on battery life.

Also new with Intel’s Napa launch will be the chip giant’s first efforts at standardizing some of the components associated with building notebooks.

Industry sources said Intel’s initial attempt should center around hard drives, optical drives and memory. The hope is to have a supply of these interoperable components available to make it easier to build and ultimately integrate and service notebooks.

Component standardization is a hot button for systems builders. To be successful, they need a wider variety of cases, motherboards and peripherals to give them the flexibility to customize systems for each client.

Customization, white-box builders said, is their biggest differentiator from top-tier competitors.

Since notebooks come from limited number of suppliers primarily with motherboard, chassis and screen pre-integrated, system builders have fewer options for customization. “We can only buy the complete chassis and that does not allow a lot of customization,” said Todd Swank, director of marketing at Nor-Tech, Burnsville, Minn.

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