Stable Image Platform Program


Let's talk about some of the advantages that Intel offers large businesses. One of the key items is the Stable Image Platform Program (SIPP). The idea is quite simple: Intel defines a platform and guarantees availability of that platform for at least 12 months (and often slightly longer). In the exact wording of the roadmap: "At least 12 months of Deployment for Image Compatible Platforms." That means both processors and chipsets, with specific feature sets required as well.

This is important because large corporations only want to support a few types of systems if at all possible. They'll have a hard drive image (images) with the base software and drivers installed, and after transferring that image onto the hard drive, the new PC boots up and can be ready for use in a matter of a couple hours (less depending on network speed, system speed, package customization, etc.) That allows the IT department to be staffed by just a couple people with headquarters usually handling the creation of disk images and installation packages. Every new system supported requires at least some updates to the image process, so corporations will have a set system that they purchase for an entire year. Bang for the buck is a far less important factor than stability and support.

Taking things a step further, though, Intel recognizes that a single platform isn't sufficient for every business need. They have two desktop SIPP options, the Intel Professional Business Platform and the Intel Fundamental Business Platform. The former typically includes slightly faster processors and some other extras, and it caters to the higher-end businesses that may do content editing, 3D rendering, audio/video, etc.; the latter is targeted more at companies that just need the typical office applications. Businesses also like portable computers, of course, so besides the two desktop configurations Intel also has a SIPP for Mobile systems.

All this adds up to an attractive lineup for many companies, and it is one of the reasons why Intel continues to dominate the business sector. Business partners can find out far in advance what the next recommended platform will be, and while many would argue that they overspend for the Intel recommendations, it's one less decision to make. If you feel your computers are outdated and slow, what do you do? Simple: upgrade to the latest Intel recommendation. No consultation required, and no worrying about parts; you just go to an OEM and grab their current business PC, and you're done. Buy a few extras, so that when systems inevitably break down you have a spare while you wait for repairs, and at least in terms of computer availability your company should have few if any problems. The going rate for such a system - including 17" LCD and a three year warranty - is around $1400. 25 such systems will cost around $35000, which is on the low end of the salary scale for an IT worker. Remember also that hardware and support is included in that price, so if the SIPP allows you to cut at least one IT position per 25 computers, you've come out ahead.

If AMD wants to gain market share from businesses, they and their partners will need to provide similar platforms with guaranteed availability. Certainly, it helps that Intel manufactures not only the processors, but the chipsets and even motherboards as well. As you'll see in a moment, SIPP computers are not for the enthusiast - we'd even go so far as to call them boring and underpowered. However, it is important to understand the bigger picture; enthusiasts are really a small - though vocal - part of the computing market. Here are the current and upcoming SIPP specifications from Intel.

Stable Image Platform Program
Platform Name Processor Chipset Features
Professional Business Platform 2005 Pentium 6xx 945G HT; 800FSB; 2MB L2; DDR2; PCIe; GbE; EM64T; AMT; GMA950
Professional Business Platform 2006 Pentium 9xx Broadwater G DC; 800FSB; 2x2MB L2; DDR2; PCIe; GbE; EM64T; New AMT; VT; New IGP
Business Platform 2004 Pentium 530-550 915G HT; 800FSB; 1MB L2; DDR/DDR2; PCIe; GbE; GMA900
Fundamental Business Platform 2005 Pentium 531 945G HT; 800FSB; 1MB L2; DDR2; PCIe; GbE; EM64T; GMA950
Fundamental Business Platform 2006 Pentium 631+ Broadwater GF HT; 800FSB; 2MB L2; DDR2; PCIe; GbE; EM64T; New IGP
Mobile Business Platform 2004 Pentium M 855 family Centrino; Intel Pro/Wireless 2100
Mobile Business Platform 2005 Pentium M 915GM/PM/GMS Centrino; Intel Pro/Wireless 2200BG and 2915ABG
Mobile Business Platform 2006 Yonah SC/DC 945GM/PM/GMS Centrino; Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG; [VT; AMT; Pro/1000 PL/PM Network]


The 915G and Pentium 5xx SIPP is being phased out now, though the changes are mostly in the chipset and the support of EM64T with the updated Pentium 5xx parts. Before the 915G SIPP, Intel had the 865G platform with socket 478 HTT/800FSB processors. Even today, a Pentium 4 2.8C is more than capable of handling office work. Intel has refined the SIPP by breaking the desktop sector into two different markets, as we mentioned earlier. As far as we can remember, this is a change that has only come about with the latest platforms - 915G didn't have separate "Professional" and "Fundamental" recommendations.

The newly launched Intel Professional Business Platform is a decent system, at least in terms of the CPU and chipset. The Pentium 630, 640, and 650 all come with 2MB of L2 cache and HyperThreading Technology, providing for a sufficiently snappy user experience. The 2MB L2 cache isn't a clear victor over the smaller 1MB cache of the earlier Prescott chips, as it has higher latencies, but in the majority of business applications it does come out ahead. For the chipset, 945G is very near the top of the Intel performance ladder, with only the 955X actually surpassing it. The advantage it has over 955X is that it has integrated graphics, and while the IGP is nothing spectacular when compared to even the $50 discrete graphics cards, it gets the job done for office work. GMA950 also supports DVI output, so LCDs get a proper signal for optimal performance. Intel Active Management Technology (AMT) is overkill for small businesses and home computers, but at corporations where they want to monitor the status of every PC, it can be useful. Gigabit Ethernet - provided of course by Intel with their Intel PRO/1000 PM Network Connection - rounds out the platform, providing everything necessary for a business PC; just add RAM, HDD, DVD, and display.

In comparison, the Intel Fundamental Business Platform is very similar, with the primary difference being the recommended CPU. Drop from the 6xx series down to the 5xx series, and you've basically got the Fundamental platform. There are a few other differences, though. First, Intel specifies the 531 CPU rather than leaving the range open. 531 is currently the lowest priced Pentium 5xx that includes EM64T and HyperThreading - the 521 is the same cost, so there's no reason to use the slower part. In fact, the Fundamental platform is simply last year's platform upgraded to an EM64T CPU and the 945G chipset. Also missing from the "lesser" platform is Intel's AMT, but for smaller businesses that likely won't be missed.

Next year's SIPP for both sectors upgrades the chipset to Broadwater - G and GF for the Pro and Fundamental platforms, respectively. In addition to the new chipset, the processors are also upgraded. The Fundamental gets the Cedar Mill 631 or higher part, while the Professional platform moves to dual-core and the Presler processor. Both of those are 65nm parts and likely the last new NetBurst designs, in case you missed our other roadmap. The 9xx chips also include Virtualization Technology, which may prove useful for some businesses. Software development could certainly make use of the ability to run multiple OS versions simultaneously, for example.

Rounding out the Stable Image Platform Program, we come to the Mobile sector. It should come as little surprise that Pentium M/Centrino is the basis of the mobile platform. The current specification includes the use of any of the 915GM/PM/GMS Express chipsets, a Pentium M processor - Banias or Dothan are both apparently acceptable, though Dothan would be more likely - and either Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG or Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG. The networking choices only provide 10/100 Mbit Ethernet, with either dual-mode B/G or tri-mode A/B/G WiFi.

Starting in 2006, the Mobile SIPP gets updated to Yonah processors with new chipsets. Both the single-core and dual-core Yonah chips qualify, allowing for everything from ultra-portable through full-size laptop computers. The chipset options get updated to the 945 variants - 945GM/PM/GMS Express - and the networking component moves to Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG. One thing that isn't entirely clear on the Yonah SIPP is how some additional options come into play. Listed below the main specification are several other items: Intel Virtualization Technology, Intel Active Management Technology, Intel PRO/1000 PM Network Connection, and Intel PRO/1000 PL Network Connection. We would assume that these are optional upgrades to the platform, adding AMT, VT, and/or gigabit Ethernet for clients that desire such features.
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  • yorthen - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    Yes, I've heard a lot about VT and AMT but never found any good explanation of how it actually works. I understand that using VT will enable Xen to run unmodified OSes, but what is it that VT does that a normal processor can not, and how does it compare to AMD's virtualisation-technology?

    And what about AMT, which is supposed to provide OS-independent management capabilities, what kind of operations does it allow?
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