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Intel: Spend money (on new PCs) to save money

Hurt by enterprises putting off PC purchases, Intel Corp. presented research purporting to show that large companies that buy new PCs equipped with its vPro security and management technology can recoup their investment in less than a year.

A company with 30,000 PCs that upgrades to new Core 2 Duo or Quad computers would make its money back in 17 months — and in just 10 months if those PCs are also equipped with vPro-enabled motherboards, according to Intel.

One analyst, however, said such ROI figures apply only to a limited set of companies and do not encompass other costs of PC upgrades, such as buying or upgrading new software licenses, something many companies have also been delaying.

“This might make sense for IT outsourcing firms or very large companies,” said Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat. “But for many of us, this is the worst economic downturn of our lives. Unless it fits in your company budget, it doesn't make sense.”

In an Intel-commissioned Wipro Consulting survey of 106 North American and European companies, 32% of the respondents said that they have slowed their PC refresh rates in the last six months. The majority, 60%, said they haven't changed their PC upgrade policy, while 8% said they have accelerated upgrades. The North American companies surveyed had a minimum of 5,000 PCs, and those based in Europe had a minimum of 2,500.

“Corporate IT is overdue for an update from Windows XP,” said Rob Crook, general manager and vice president for Intel's business client group. “Yes, it's tough economic times, but those who can, are [upgrading].”

Though it's still profitable, Intel has blamed delayed PC upgrades on declining revenues in recent months.

Slower PC upgrades mean that many enterprises haven't tried out vPro, which Intel launched in April 2006. The first desktop PCs featuring the technology began shipping several months later.

VPro enables a number of services, such as Active Management Technology (AMT), which allows IT managers to remotely configure and set policies for PCs, and Intel Trusted Execution Technology (TXT), which is used to enforce security policies.

According to independent analyst Jack Gold, only 10% to 15% of enterprise PCs deployed today have vPro. Gold released research last week showing that upgrading laptops makes financial sense, primarily because it's costly to maintain breakage-prone, out-of-warranty hardware.

Desktop PCs aren't as vulnerable to damage as laptops, Gold said, noting that upgrading to new vPro-enabled PCs on the desktop could be financially smart but the payback is less straightforward than Intel might make it sound.

TXT is supposed to be more secure because it is in the hardware, not software, layer. That didn't stop security experts from breaking TXT and and explaining how it was done earlier this year.

McGregor still praises vPro's features. But he says vPro technology needs to be paired with strong back-end management tools and run in large environments for it to translate into increased security and lower costs.

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