IBM Adds Atmel Chip to Ease Hardware Inventory Tracking

IBM Corp. and Atmel Corp. (San Jose, Calif., have teamed to make tracking and monitoring a company’s hardware inventory easier. The hardware and software solution is based on Atmel’s Asset ID Chip, which allows identification of configuration and components within a computer from an outside reader. The purpose of this new asset identification chip is to help IT managers prevent the unauthorized movement of systems from their company.

This capability is based on a programmable radio-frequency integrated device developed by Atmel in collaboration with IBM and HID Corp. (Irvine, Calif.,, which provides the radio frequency for automated identification and remote transfer of data in access control and asset management applications.

The chip is capable of transmitting tracking information, such as a machine’s serial number, via radio frequency. Thus, users can actually gather all the information they need about a particular machine or group of machines. And since the chip works without the user's ever having to power the machines on, such information can be gathered before the machines are set up and spread out, should there be a need for it.

To collect the information, a user can simply hold a wireless radio frequency hand-held device within range of the chip and obtain the desired data. "If an IT department gets a large shipment of new machines in, one person can gather all the serial numbers and peripheral data before taking the machines out of their boxes," says Bill Hoke, marketing manager for IBM’s desktop systems.

When a computer or other electronic system with the chip on board is within range of a portable or fixed reader, the device generates a signal. This signal reports system information as well as other identification and security data that has been stored in the device. Programmability of the device results from the inclusion, on chip, of a nonvolatile EEPROM memory device.

The Atmel chip is designed to help customers prevent the unauthorized movement of items such as telecommunications devices, printers, fax machines, and test and instrumentation equipment. The device is designed for user logs, maintenance records, manufacturing history, passwords and other information storage. When used for asset control or identification, the chip can track a piece of equipment if it is removed from a building or area. Security measures can be initiated if appropriate identification data is not presented.

Initially, IBM will implement the Asset ID Chip into its IntelliStation MPRO series and the IBM PC 300PL with Pentium II processors. "The plan is to continue to incorporate the radio frequency chip into more and more high-end desktops and mid- to high-end ThinkPads later this year," says Hoke. Naturally, notebooks are easier to simply walk out of an office with, so they are harder for IT departments to keep track of. "The real value of the chip is clearly in the ThinkPad line," adds Hoke.