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The future is 'ultramobile:' Intel makes the PC persona non grata

Mark Hachman | July 19, 2013
While the PC isn't disappearing anytime soon, it may as well be the deranged grandmother locked away within Intel's attic, whose faint screams are ignored in the rooms below.

While the PC isn't disappearing anytime soon, it may as well be the deranged grandmother locked away within Intel's attic, whose faint screams are ignored in the rooms below.

Indeed, Intel's newly-minted chief executive, Brian Krzanich, didn't even mention notebooks, let alone the desktop, in his prepared remarks. And the only mention he made of the personal computer was a mea culpa: "We were slow to respond to the ultramobile PC trend," he said, admitting that part of Intel's job was to scan for trends and react to them.

Krzanich has an excuse: he's been on the job for just two months, taking over for Intel's prior chief executive, Paul Otellini. As analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights noted, Intel was bailed out once again by its success in the data center market, where revenue was up 6.1 percent sequentially and flat year-over-year in Intel's second-quarter earnings, that it reported on Wednesday. But sales within the PC Client group plunged 7.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago, representative of the continuing slide in the PC market.

But Krzanich made clear several things:

  • Minimizing power, not maximizing performance, is now the point of almost everything Intel does.
  • "Ultramobile" is now synonymous with PC. Desktops and notebooks exist, but they won't be the priority. And tablets will make up a small, but increasing portion of Intel's business, using its Atom processor.
  • Those with the best fabs, win. Intel will ramp its next-generation 14-nm manufacturing technology this fall, a fundamental approach to increasing performance, lowering power consumption, and extending battery life. Defect densities with Intel's current 22-nm process are at record lows.
  • Intel's Atom processor is now on an equal footing with Intel's Core chips with the PC. "Atom will be an equal player in technological leadership within the product space," Krzanich said.

Intel's call with analysts was also notable for what it downplayed: performance. Over the years I've covered chipmakers in Silicon Valley, every conversation at least touched upon performance: the frame rates GPUs achieved in leading-edge games, how well a particular DSP performed a particular operation, or the number of MIPS generated by an embedded CPU. Instead, Krzanich applied the performance argument really only where Intel faces a disadvantage: in the tablet market, competing with the lower-cost ARM processors. (Intel executives have said previously that the upcoming Silvermont or Bay Trail Atom chips outperform ARM's Cortex-A15 in both performance and battery life. A recent dispute appears to give ARM an edge over Intel's current Clover Trail+ chip, however.)

"So Bay Trail really first and foremost we believe gives solid performance, solid battery life relative to the competition in price points and markets that we're simply not in, in a big way today," Krzanich said.

 

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