Looking for the latest back-to-school laptops might have shoppers wondering if the sales associates, themselves, should be going back to school.
That was the appearance, at least, when several retail stores in the Sacramento, Calif. area were visited to see if staff knew a basic piece of information about Intel Core processors. Always purposely standing in front of a first-generation Intel Core system when approached by a sales associate, we asked this question: "Can you please show me notebooks with second-generation Intel Core so I can buy my kid the latest technology for back-to-school?"
Our findings were mixed, and likely disconcerting for Intel.
For background, second-generation Core processors, previously known by the codename "Sandy Bridge," have been supported with strong marketing since they launched in January, so it was not unreasonable to expect solid knowledge on these products across the board. Plus, even sales associates with minimal training can spot a second-generation Core system two ways. Perhaps the easiest is by the sticker on the laptop itself; "badges" on second-generation products have a golden holographic stripe that Intel internally calls the "kink." (Stickers on first-generation systems have a peel-back-looking die-resembling treatment on the upper-right corner.) The other way to identify a 2G Intel Core is by the model number; if the name starts with a "2," as in "i5-2410M," then it's a 2G CPU.
All perfectly clear, right? These were the responses:
"This one here is second generation," said Ernest at the Staples in Roseville. Unfortunately, we were looking at a first-generation core i3 Dell Inspiron. Given a chance to correct himself, he was asked, "Are you sure this is second generation? It has the old sticker." Ernest replied, "It's an older model with a new processor." Say what?
"Oh, you're looking for laptops with Sandy," said Alexa at Fry's Electronics in Roseville. She meant "Sandy Bridge," of course, but even still, it's a codename, not a component. None of Intel's processors have Sandy on the chip, whatever that is. The hole she dug got deeper the next time she spoke. "All of our Intel laptops are second generation." Alas, we were conversing directly in front of an i5 Toshiba notebook bearing the first-generation sticker, and there were three other 1G laptops on display.
"We've got a couple of older models on the other side, but all of these here are the newer ones," said Nick of the Best Buy in Roseville. When the customer brought to Nick's attention a first-generation i3 HP Pavilion notebook on the supposed 2G-only side, a system that was misleadingly running an on-screen graphic with the new sticker, Nick said, apologetically, "I've got to look into that."
Despite claiming that every Intel notebook on display was second-generation, Raj at the Office Depot in Roseville overlooked a first-generation i5 HP Pavilion on the opposite side of the aisle.
So that's four major retailers that could have sold a customer on a second-generation Core notebook when in actuality the purchase was anything but. Another store made an even more dramatic error. At the Wal-Mart in Folsom, sales associate Justin correctly stated that the description of the i3 Sony Core on display indicated that this was a 2G model. However, the little sign didn't match the product, a Sony Vaio with Intel's basic-grade Pentium processor. "Well, that's not right," Justin said, embarrassed.
While discrepancies, misinformation and embarrassing mistakes were found at some stores, others shined.
"All of these are second generation, except that one," said Kris at the Staples in Citrus Heights, pointing out a first-generation HP laptop with the older sticker.
At the Office Max in Folsom, Rudy correctly stated that his store has two 1G models with the others being 2G.
"Those three are second generation and those four are first generation," said Cory at the Staples in Folsom, and he was right. So was Anthony at the Costco in Folsom when he said the only Intel systems customers will find there have second-generation Core processors.
And then there was Matt at the Best Buy in Folsom. Not only did he correctly differentiate between the two iterations of Core on display in the notebook section, but he proactively touted the features of the newer generation, including the benefits of having graphics integrated on the chipset.
"But does it have Sandy?"
Matt looked puzzled by the customer's question. Then after a brief awkward pause, he figured it out.
"Ah, you're asking about Sandy Bridge," Matt said smiling. "That's another name for second-generation Core."
No back-to-school needed for that sales associate. Unless he's the teacher.