Intel's Skylake vPro chips will support Windows 7 after all

The new chips are tuned for Windows 10, though, and strengthen biometric authentication

Business users alarmed by Microsoft's recent announcement that new chips will not run on Windows 7 PCs need not fret. More than 100 business PCs coming with Intel's new "Skylake" Core vPro processors will run Windows 7, though the chips are tuned for Windows 10.

Microsoft last week said PCs with certain Intel Skylake and next-generation "Kaby Lake" chips would support only Windows 10. The goal was to push enterprises to upgrade their PCs to the new OS. However, Microsoft is releasing a list of Skylake PCs that support Windows 7.

The new "6th-generation" vPro chips, announced on Tuesday, have features that let system administrators remotely manage and secure PCs. Some features in the new chips -- such as chip-level storage of biometric authentication data -- will work only with Windows 10.

The PC market is slumping partly because businesses are slow to upgrade PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10, according to IDC. Intel is maintaining support for Windows 7 considering enterprises are still using the old OS, though the chips will aid in the transition to Windows 10, said Tom Garrison, vice president and general manager of business client products at Intel.

Windows 10 has new biometric authentication features so users can log in to PCs through face or fingerprint detection. With vPro, biometric authentication data is stored in firmware at the chip layer, providing a higher level of security than placing the information on a drive. The authentication information stored inside the chip will extend to other login methods such as iris detection.

The chip-layer firmware technology isn't foolproof, but it provides an extra layer of protection, Garrison said.

Non-biometric data like PINs are scrambled and stored in the graphics processor. Hackers can't easily access data in the GPU, Garrison said

System administrators can remotely troubleshoot, repair and manage PCs, and even wipe or lock down PCs if they are stolen. Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager server software lets system administrators set policies or deploy updates.

The Windows 10 OS also allows for better geotagging of PCs, Garrison said. Policies can define the types of applications users access and locations where PCs can be used. For example, a doctor might be able to access a medical record from within a hospital, but not from a cafe outside.

Some vPro features don't rely on the OS. System administrators can remotely access PCs prior to OS boots to fix memory or hard drive problems.

The Skylake chips are about 35 percent faster than comparable previous-generation vPro PC processors based on the Broadwell architecture, according to Intel benchmarks. For laptops, that benchmark assumes a battery life of about eight hours.

HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus and Acer will ship vPro laptops. Garrison declined to comment on whether vPro chips will be used in Apple Macs.

The vPro chips are also in Intel's thumb-size Compute Stick, which can plug into an HDMI port to turn any display into a PC. The Compute Sticks with vPro will ship next month starting at $399.

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Tags softwareWindows 10Windows 7intelSkylake vPro chips

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