The move follows Linux computer vendor System76 announcingthat it will roll out a firmware update to disable Intel Management Engine on laptops sold in the past few years. Purism will also disable Intel Management Engine on future machines. But these two were much smaller outfits so Intel probably did not care much. But it seems bigger companies are also voicing their displeasure at Intel ME.
At least three Dell computers can be configured with an "Intel vPro -- ME Inoperable, Custom Order" option, although you'll have to pay a little extra for those configurations... While Intel doesn't officially provide an option to disable its Management Engine, independent security researchers have discovered methods for doing that and we're starting to see PC makers make use of those methods.
The option appears to be available on most of Dell's Latitude laptops (from the 12- to 15-inch screens), including the 7480, 5480, and 5580 and the Latitude 14 5000 Series as well as several "Rugged" and "Rugged Extreme" models.
For those who came in late, Intel Management Engine is a technology that is often described as a secret operating system inside the main Intel CPU. The ME component runs independently from the user's main OS, with separate processes, threads, memory manager, hardware bus driver, file system, and many other components. An attacker that exploits a flaw and gains control over the Intel ME has untethered control over the entire computer. In November, Intel issued a security alert for several flaws affecting ME and other core Intel CPU technologies.