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Intel's next-gen CEO must get inside next-gen devices

Brad Chacos | May 6, 2013
With Brian Krzanich and his manufacturing prowess at the helm of Chipzilla, expect it to keep trying to out-engineer the competition.

Moorhead expects Krzanich and crew to lean hard on Intel's fabrication prowess to gain an edge.

"I expect Intel not only to add power parity and features [to its mobile chips], but also to be the lowest-cost producer," he says. There is a high likelihood of that happening, Moorhead says, if Intel manages to build mobile chips using the 14nm manufacturing process in 2014, as expected. That would make Intel's process technologically superior to the 20nm process currently used by TSMC, the contract chip foundry that cranks out processors for top ARM suppliers such as Qualcomm and Nvidia.

The threat of Intel's technological dominance has already prompted TSMC to convert to the 16nm process in 2014, a year ahead of schedule. The company's fear is well-founded: Just ask AMD how tenaciously Intel holds onto an advantage once it gains a nuts-and-bolts edge.

How PCs got their groove back

For all the talk about smartphones and tablets and smart coffee makers, though, Intel's true bread-and-butter remains the traditional PC market, where the vast majority of computers rock Intel Inside. (Sorry, AMD--it's true.) The industry, despite its general woes, still treats Intel well, as evidenced by the company's revenues of $53.3 billion in 2012. Intel even raked in $12.6 billion during the first quarter of this year, when manufacturer sales plummeted.

Still, a thriving PC industry means an even-more-thriving Intel.

"Intel's number-two priority is to make PCs sexy again, by investing in new usage models and new form factors," says Moorhead.

What does that mean? Look to Ultrabooks: Intel pretty much single-handedly created the thin-and-light laptop genre on the Windows side. Sure, Ultrabooks may have started out as MacBook Air clones, but now they're a breed of their own, complete with industry-propelling standards such as fast boot times, battery life minimums, and (in 2014) touchscreen displays. Intel owns--literally--the Ultrabook brand, and breathed life into it via a $300 million innovation fund.

Look for Intel to stimulate hybrids in a similar way--though maybe without the $300 million--to get its PC cash cow lactating once again. Witness the company's reference design for a Haswell-based hybrid, unveiled at this year's CES. Beyond its stunning aesthetic, the device sported a 13-hour battery life, a dynamic display size that changes depending on whether you're using the machine as a tablet or as a notebook, and several other thoughtful touches.

The upcoming Haswell and Bay Trail chips will theoretically deliver unprecedented energy efficiencies (for x86 silicon) and should provide a big boost for Core processor-based hybrids and tablets. Tablet-thin but PC-powerful computers aren't out of the question with these processors, if Intel delivers on its power promises. Expect Intel to spur manufacturers to adopt these radical new PC designs.

 

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