Half of Americans Now Work Remotely. Intel Is Making a Point That We Need Better ProcessorsMay 14, 2020 by Gary Elinoff
If COVID-19 really is "a massive experiment in telecommuting," Intel is showing how more robust processors—like its new processors with built-in Wi-Fi 6—will be key to the success of remote workers.
In early April of this year, MIT conducted a survey on 25,000 Americans, predicting that roughly half of the U.S. workforce is now working remotely. And while many states are in the process of cautiously reopening workplaces in phases, Forbes contributor Richard Eisenberg predicts that not every company will return to normal once COVID-19 has subsided.
Eisenberg quotes Katherine Guyot and Isabel V. Sawhill from the Brooking's Institution, who call COVID-19 "a massive experiment in telecommuting."
Semiconductor suppliers play a major role in this experiment; they must develop processors that can shoulder the connectivity, performance, and battery-life demands that a home-bound workforce requires. To this end, Intel has just unveiled its 10th Gen Core vPro processors, which they hope to "power the next generation of business computing innovation for the increasingly remote workforce."
Intel’s 10th Gen Intel Core vPro processors. Image used courtesy of Intel
Designed for both mobile and desktop PC devices, members of this new processor generation are designed to enhance connectivity, security, and power—all paramount characteristics for successful remote work.
The Updated Processor: A Revolution or an Evolution?
Intel cites the improvements in this generation of processors, which may be more evolutionary than revolutionary.
Compared with a 3-year-old laptop, the 10th Gen Core vPro processors provide up to 40% better application performance, which according to Intel, can yield up to 36% higher office productivity. Intel also explains that this processor allows users to analyze and visualize data up to 44% faster than a 5-year-old desktop computer.
Supporting Video Conferencing
Video conferencing has become a staple in the modern remote workforce. Intel says that its new Core vPro processors zero in on features that improve connectivity for glitch-free conversations.
The 10th-generation chips include the Intel 400 series Platform Controller Hub (PCH) with its build-in Wi-Fi 6, conforming to IEEE 802.11ax wireless standard—much improved over Wi-Fi 5. The 400 series PCH, illustrated on the bottom half of both sections of the below diagram, provides support for Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, Intel Optane memory, and Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax.
Block diagram of the 10th gen Intel Core VPRO S/H processor. Image used courtesy of Intel
The real benefit is Wi-Fi 6's speed. It's so fast, Intel explains, that it might very well eliminate the need for in-house Ethernet cabling from the server to the individual’s computer. The expense of cabling can be eliminated, and an employee can change their physical location anywhere within a facility. Tying Wi-Fi directly into the CPU itself can only enhance security, but the availability of Wi-Fi 6 will probably be more of a boon for in-house operations than for remote users.
Battery Life and Scalability
With so much power-intensive video conferencing, battery life, display, and memory are other concerns for consumers. The 10th generation of Intel’s Core vPro processors includes up to 10 processor cores and Gen 9 Intel UHD graphics, which support 4K displays. There is also a two-channel DDR4 memory controller.
Block diagram of the 10th gen Intel Core VPRO U processor. Image used courtesy of Intel
The processors are offered in the U, H, and S series for mainstream mobile devices, high-performance mobile devices, and desktop systems, respectively. Members have from four to ten cores and feature 15-watt to 125-watt thermal design power (TDP) options.
Security and Supply Chain
The Intel vPro platform, of which the new 10th Gen Core vPro processors are a part, is protected by Intel's Hardware Shield. This shield locks down critical resources to protect against malicious code intrusions. It can also perform active memory scanning to detect threats while reducing false positives and minimizing system performance impacts.
Hardware Shield also verifies system component authenticity, verifying that only trusted hardware is employed system-wide. It offers hardware support for a range of Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise operating system security services.
This is especially important now that more and more employees are working remotely, outside the safety of the firewall.
Modern Remote Management
Intel says its Active Management Technology (AMT) and Endpoint Management Assistant (EMA) make it easier to implement software upgrades and install patches. This can be done in-house or beyond the firewall for remote employees.
Intel has included AMT and EMA features into the Intel vPro platform for remote work. Image used courtesy of Intel
If the system is integrated with Intel HD Graphics, a remote system can be debugged by a technician anywhere in the world as though they could manipulate the mouse and keyboard and view the screen.
The First of Many Processor Innovations?
The stakes of a robust processor are even higher now that nearly half of Americans' remote jobs rely on high performances. We recently discussed how stay-at-home orders are overburdening data centers, and the same might be said for our individual desktop computers. That said, it's likely that Intel's new generation of processors will not be the first of their kind.
How do you foresee circuit designs changing to support the demands of remote work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.