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The future of the desktop is a tabletop

Mark Hachman | Feb. 11, 2014
One day, the future of Intel's desktop business will lie within something that looks like the Microsoft Surface. No, not the tablet--the older, tabletop version. Remember that?

One day, the future of Intel's desktop business will lie within something that looks like the Microsoft Surface. No, not the tablet — the older, tabletop version. Remember that?

In a world increasingly defined by mobile devices, one might think that Intel's desktop business would be the equivalent of Siberia. In fact, the opposite is true, according to Lisa Graff, the vice president of the PC Client Group and general manager of the Desktop Client Platforms Group.

Last quarter, Intel shipped a record number of its Core i5 and i7 chips, Graff said in an interview, with more unit sales going to businesses than consumers. There are still a large number of businesses, such as banks, that would rather lock down their data than risk its wandering away on a mobile device, she said.

In fact, Intel sees its desktop business bifurcating: shrinking into smaller devices, such as the Next Unit of Computing (the NUC), where Intel's traditional desktop components are packed tightly within a chassis slightly smaller than a Rubik's Cube. Workstation and gaming PCs, however, will still demand a large, roomy chassis with abundant power and cooling. But when asked to describe the future of the desktop PC, Graff selected a more traditionally consumer-oriented device: the flat-screen TV.

When does a smart TV become a dumb PC?
In the past year, companies like Lenovo have begun shipping devices like the Flex 20, a touch-based all-in-one light enough to be toted around the house. "You could call it just a giant Windows tablet, but I think that would sell it short," Graff said. "These portable all-in-ones combine the best of a large screen, and once they get light enough — and they can get down to about five pounds — you can carry a 20-inch screen around your house, if you want to."

Graff said that she keeps hers in the kitchen. "And because I can carry it around, like a TV, I use it like a TV," she said. "And that's what we're starting to see, whether they're portable or not. They're becoming a second TV. It suggests some interesting merging...I wonder how much difference you're going to see in the next few years between a smart TV — which becomes so smart that you can do a lot with it, like Netflix and Hulu, and it heads towards being a PC — and a PC which heads towards being a TV, and you get this sort of TV/PC thing." 

(Traditional monitor makers also hope to move out of the living room, building in intelligence to create a "smart monitor.")

Over time, Graff said, the OEMs designing and building these portable all-in-ones will incorporate an improved version of the Intel RealSense technology that Intel formally launched at CES. The goal? To help optimize them for one of the traditional roles of the desktop PC: gaming.


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