Over the past 18 months the demands on the IT industry have never been greater especially in client computing. The global pandemic has caused much disruption, forcing organisations to accommodate changes to their previous ways of working at unprecedented speeds.
The adoption of hybrid and remote working patterns have driven the need for more robust and agile infrastructures, supported by device requirements that enable ‘anytime, anywhere’ working, be that an office desk, coffee table or kitchen worktop. Whilst supply chains stood up well initially, they soon started to creek and even the well-established IT hardware providers started to struggle with inventory shortages.
There has been at least one piece of good news throughout all these disruptions, the re-introduction of Samsung to the mobile computing market, which in turn has added further weight to their business portfolio.
Samsung now boasts a comprehensive range of Galaxy Book laptop products from their Entry-Level Galaxy Book Go, to their High-End Galaxy Book 360. Acknowledging changes to the business world, along with increased user demand, has led to Samsung not rigidly following the well-trodden ‘Wintel’ path. They do offer some stunning designs based on Intel’s EVO based platform but have also introduced both Chromebooks and Qualcomm CPU based devices.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Samsung have launched such a complete range of laptop devices based on their market leading heritage in the mobile phone and tablet space. Similar to their approach with mobile phones and tablets you won’t be surprised to read that their laptops feature the latest technologoies such as AMOLED displays, Integrated 5G, WiFi 6E, as well as being thin and light in design, yet maintaining all the durability features required of a business class device.
Samsung have wisely followed other manufacturers lead in terms of their Eco system integration. Their computing range connects seamlessly to other Galaxy devices, smartphones and tablets and offers some great features for example the use of Samsung tablet as a secondary display for the laptop as well as shared accessories such as S-Pen and the ability to charge Galaxy Smartphones and tablets via an inbuilt USB-C charging facility of the Laptop.
With today’s constrained product market, we should also mention that Samsung’s supply chain management and control around their design, manufacturing and logistics processes unsurprisingly also applies to their business computing devices. This should hopefully ensure that committed inbound device shipments arrive as planned and on schedule.
When you consider Samsung’s already significant footprint with Enterprise variants of their Smartphones and tablet devices, which are under pinned by their KNOX Secure, Deploy and Manage software suite and business class support, the addition of these new Computing products really does elevate their position in the corporate and SMB marketplace.
When it’s time for organisations to review their mobile compute platforms it’s worth including Samsung in for consideration and assess the benefits they could offer.
For further information please reach out to your Computacenter Account team who will be able to assist you.
Hybrid working continues to be a dominant word as organisations continue to plot their path through the latest phase of the pandemic. We have seen many challenges overcome and changes adopted as the commercial world looked to mobilise what wasn’t previously a mobile workforce. In many cases mobilising a workforce and enabling hybrid working resulted in a plethora of new devices being purchased. Unfortunately, as many organisations discovered, this surge in demand was replicated worldwide so the ‘supply well’ inevitably started to run dry, which then caused product constraints. In some cases, this led to an additional outcome where employees were permitted to utilise their personal devices for corporate use. Challenges around Device Management and Security therefore increased.
When Intel introduced their 11th Generation client CPUs earlier this year, they took the opportunity to revamp an initiative previously known as Project Athena and the ‘EVO’ branding for laptops was born. Like its predecessor (Project Athena), for hardware manufacturers products to qualify for the EVO brand they need to comply with a set of Intel guidelines which are designed to improve responsiveness, offer long battery life with fast charging, support instant wake-up and provide best in class connectivity. The usability of these devices is also a focus which has led to Thin and Light designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and desirable. Throughout the year the introduction of new EVO based products have been on the increase with Dell, HP, Lenovo being joined by Microsoft, Samsung, Acer, Dynabook and ASUS.
Apple, with their MacBook and Microsoft, with their Surface laptops have both done a fantastic job in recent years in designing and producing products that are both desirable and feature rich. By adhering to the EVO standards, other Hardware manufacturers are now equipped with similar products that are aimed at providing the end user with an exceptional experience anywhere.
Not stopping there, and to further increase the EVO appeal to business organisations, Intel have also coupled its vPro technology platform to the EVO branding creating the ‘Intel EVO vPro platform’. The result of this is that organisations can offer the best of both worlds to their employees, the desirability, and high-end features of EVO, along with the enterprise class security, performance, and manageability of vPro.
As you have probably figured out already, products that qualify for the Intel EVO vPro platform are positioned at the premium end of the scale, but we are increasingly seeing organisations move towards devices that offer their end users a more ‘experiential’ outcome thus showing them their value to the business. These increased feature devices can also help organisation with employee retention or help attract new candidates when offered as part of their joining package.
The future is also bright for the Intel EVO vPro Platform as we believe there are further enhancements when Intel releases it next generation ‘Alder Lake’ CPU in the first half of 2022.
If you haven’t done so already, I would encourage you to take a look at products that conform to the Intel EVO vPro Platform. Whilst they may not fit all your ‘Personas’ or ‘Workstyles’ they will almost certainly improve the user experience in those they do.
Computacenter have produced a useful summary guide that positions the Intel EVO vPro Platform. This along with a short, animated video can be found at the following URL – https://www.computacenter.com/uk/vendor-partnerships/intel/computacenter-and-intel-evo-vpro
For further information please reach out to your Computacenter Account team who will be able to assist you.
Intel have for decades enjoyed near total domination of the Commercial PC market, providing the core components – CPUs and Chipsets to the OEMs and to their credit have continued to innovate. As they add more features and improve the performance of their silicon platforms enabling OEMs to innovate their PC design by making them thinner and lighter, there’s a feeling that this still doesn’t address the ever-increasing User Experience demands.
With the proliferation of consumer devices in the modern workplace (smartwatches, smartphones, tablets etc) there’s a concern that so much choice can both distract and even overwhelm users. The lack of time spent un-interrupted by these ‘skinny’ clients, whilst providing unrivaled connectivity can become a distraction to those who simply need to focus and concentrate on our business tasks. Research suggests that even in the face of so much choice the notebook PC continues to be the main go-to business device. During 2020 it is predicted that the ‘Millennial’ generation will become the dominant demographic group in the workforce. What organisations like Intel therefore need to ensure is that the needs of this generation are being addressed by their future technologies. Unsurprisingly the ‘User Experience’ and usability will play a big part.
User Experience Targets
Based on the User Experience targets above, I think it is safe to say that the notebook PC as a device is not going anywhere, but its usability and the experiences you get from it can be improved upon.
Intel recently released a high-level blueprint of how they and the PC OEMs are looking to deliver these experience improvements to users; its known in the industry as Project Athena.
Project Athena – Laptop Innovation Rooted in Human Understanding
It’s worth noting that Project Athena is a 2-3 year view so it’s not about dropping in a ton of new technologies in one hit, but we are already seeing some encouraging progress.
Project Athena focuses on three main areas – Always Ready, Adaptive and Focus.
CPU chipset efficiencies will continue to drive improvements in battery life but inbuilt AI capabilities will also help with this – The much heralded 5G and WIFI 6 or AX standards once they arrive ‘en masse’ and have greater coverage are expected to not only deliver faster speeds but be much more robust and reliable due to the increases in the available spectrum they operate in.
The 2-in-1 form factor which is the touchscreen notebook with near 360-degree hinge continues to gain share from the traditional simple clam-shell device as it offers the best user interaction – touch, pen, keyboard.
AI is going to play a part in improving such areas as voice recognition and enabling ‘Do not disturb’ features to ensure outside distractions are kept to a minimum. Monitoring when there’s a reduction in user interactions will enable the device to intelligently reduce or suspend power-states to those parts of the sub-systems that are not in use. This will result in power saving and improving battery life.
A more ‘Tablet-like’ experience in a package that delivers enhanced performance is the target with features that include a < 1 sec from lid up to login time, whilst utilising Intel’s next generation mobile CPU core technologies. Persistent memory provided by Intel’s Optane technology also plays a big part in improving performance and decreasing wait times.
Whilst Project Athena maybe a 2-3 year vision its far from being pure ‘vapour-ware’ today. HP Inc has recently announced the first to market Athena v1 commercial product with their Elite Dragonfly notebook.
All notebook PCs that conform to the Project Athena specification will feature the Intel distinguishing label, shown to the right.
The design criteria from Intel to conform to the Athena standard is expected to evolve as the supporting technologies develop. Version 1 is believed to be based roughly on the following target criteria –
- Chassis Design – 15mm Z height (allow 17mm this year under right conditions)
- <1 second from lid up to logon
- No performance degradation when unplugged from power cord
- >16 hours of battery in video playback mode
- >9 hours continuous intensive browser usage
- 4 hours of battery charged in 30 mins
The Benefits of Project Athena
With the goal of Project Athena being to drive the next wave of innovation into notebook PCs we can expect to realise the following benefits and improvements over traditional Notebook PCs –
- Improved productivity and User Experience
- Usability – All day battery-life with rapid charging and intelligent use of AI
- Connectivity – Provided by Thunderbolt 3, WiFi 6 and 5G
- Performance – Latest CPU and next generation Optane storage
- Design – Thinner, lighter designs that feature multiple input methods
- User satisfaction – A more responsive ‘without delay’ user experience
What Next ?
The other leading commercial PC OEMs are expected to follow HP Inc’s lead in releasing Athena v1 class devices so I would urge you to take a look at the Dragonfly to judge it for yourself.
Contact your Computacenter Account Manager to find out ways we can help you understand more about Project Athena.
Despite the proliferation of devices now available it’s good to see recent surveys showing the continuing relevance of the humble PC.
One such recent Intel survey questioning the ‘Importance of the laptop’ concluded that over 80% of respondents agreed with the statement – “I often use my computer when I need to get things done that matter” and a further 70% agreed that – “I feel that the time I spend on my computer is time well spent”. It’s results like this that endorse that the PC is still, in the main, the preferred weapon of choice for productivity and getting the work done for most people.
The business tasks and workloads we ask our PCs to deliver continue to increase. More and more multitasking as well as numerous applications running in the foreground and background are in danger of making what is an essential work tool slow down our productivity and detrimentally impact our user experience.
Whilst silicon manufacturers do a fantastic job evolving their CPUs to keep a pace with our growing power-hungry requirements, we have started to see other aspects of the system becoming more of a bottleneck to performance. A number of years ago it was considered a big advancement when IT decision makers started realising the benefits and approving the use of Solid-State Drives (SSD) over the traditional ‘spinning’ Hard Disk Drives. Whilst SSD does indeed offers greater performance over its spinning rival they still lag behind the performance of their volatile memory DRAM cousins that make up the PCs main system memory.
Introducing Intel Optane
To increase the performance of the SSD, Intel has developed Intel Optane Memory H10 with Solid State Storage. Conceived originally as a Datacenter technology, Intel has created a single drive device that combines Optane memory and their high-speed SSD (QLC NAND) technology.
Products based on Intel’s Optane technology represent a different approach to the traditional SSD. A unique characteristic of Optane is that the memory is significantly faster than that used in current NAND SSD drives. Unlike DRAM or main system memory, Optane is Non-volatile which means data written to it will remain even after the PC re-starts.
Despite the Intel Optane Memory H10 with Solid State Storage solution consisting of both an Optane and NAND SSD memory the user only sees a single HDD. Behind the scenes Intel have an intelligent memory controller and their Rapid Storage Technology driver which is where the workload optimisation takes place. The drive constantly monitors how the user works on a daily basis – which applications are used most, or data is accessed most frequently. These common tasks are then moved dynamically into the higher performing and optimised Optane memory.
What are the benefits of Intel Optane?
Users are rarely working with only one application at a time so demand systems that can cope with their multi-tasking needs. Even those users that may not think they are multi-tasking with applications typically are due to the increased number of background tasks being run. User experience remains a challenge, and this is where Intel Optane can help by providing:
- Improved performance – A more responsive PC that reduces time spent waiting for thing to happen.
- Security – Support for industry standard encryption, including secure erase.
- Ease of use – Despite there being two components, the user and IT support will only see a single storage device.
By utilising Intel Optane, organisations can continue to benefit from today’s demanding applications whilst allowing users to get more work done faster, improving both productivity and user experience.
Intel Optane in Action
Adding more system DRAM memory to a PC has long been the popular choice in attempting to increase its responsiveness, but with Intel’s claims of roughly 2x performance increase over a standard SSD, an Optane enabled SSDs could offer a better option for increasing performance and ultimately the user experience.
The graph below highlights the potential performance gains of Intel Optane when considered as an alternative approach to doubling up on system memory.
Intel Optane Memory H10 with Solid State Storage options is currently available in the following capacities –
- 256GB SSD featuring 16GB of Optane memory
- 512GB SSD featuring 32GB of Optane memory
- 1TB SSD featuring 32GB of Optane memory
What’s next for Intel Optane?
The leading PC manufacturers are already including Intel Optane storage options and configurations on the majority of their latest commercial products.
If you are looking to add additional DRAM in the hope of increasing PC responsiveness and performance, talk to us about how you can test the Optane technology for yourself as it is likely to deliver an improved end user experience… and who doesn’t like happy users.