Although chip giant Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) spends a great deal of time talking about its focus on opportunities beyond the personal computer market, the reality is that its client computing group — which makes processors and related components for PCs — will likely continue to be its biggest business for the foreseeable future.
For some context, the client computing group generated $34 billion in sales and $12.9 billion in operating profit last year. Intel’s second-largest unit, its data center group, only took in $19 billion in sales and just $8.4 billion in operating profit.
In other words, Intel’s performance in the personal computer market is immensely important to the company and its shareholders. And in support of that business, the company announced a slate of new products during its keynote presentation at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan. Let’s go over what Intel unveiled, and consider what those products could mean for the company over the next 12 months.
New mobile processors
For mainstream notebook computers, Intel announced a processor family known as Whiskey Lake-U, which succeeds the Kaby Lake Refresh line it launched last year. For systems that need very low-power processors, particularly those that operate without a fan for cooling, the company announced a chip known as Amber Lake-Y, a much-needed replacement for the Kaby Lake-Y that it launched in late 2016.
Intel claims that these chips feature “up to double-digit performance gains and integrated gigabit Wi-Fi.” It also says that beginning in the fall, we should expect its partners to roll out “more than 140 new laptops and 2 in 1s from OEMs.”
In 2017, Intel’s notebook processor shipments grew 5%, and the average selling prices of those processors rose 2%, so it’s little surprise that the company is working hard to deliver an annual cadence of new products even in light of the manufacturing difficulties it’s facing with its 10nm technology (Whiskey Lake-U and Amber Lake-Y are built using an enhanced version of the company’s mature 14nm technology).
While Intel hasn’t disclosed the specifics of these processors, its competitive position in the notebook computer market was already solid, and I think these releases will only enhance its leadership there.
New display technology
Intel also talked about its new Intel Low Power Display Technology, which it co-engineered with Sharp and Innolux. The company claims the technology can cut the power consumed by a display in half compared to traditional laptop screens.
“Through continued innovation with the industry, we expect to deliver an additional four to eight hours of local video playback — that means battery life could be up to 28 hours on some devices,” Intel’s press release said.
Although this isn’t directly related to its core processor technology, Intel is fundamentally a platform company, so it tends to innovate in areas beyond the processor to ensure that systems based on its technologies deliver user-experience improvements. Little things like that can allow Intel-based systems to stand out from the crowd (and that crowd is getting bigger these days), allowing it to defend its market share and even allowing it to, potentially, capture a larger slice of the system bill of materials.
Enthusiast desktop riches
Within the personal computer market, demand and sales continue to grow in the gaming and enthusiast-oriented sub-segment. On Intel’s last earnings call, CEO Brian Krzanich said that the client computing group’s revenue was “up 3% despite a declining PC [total addressable market]” thanks to “strength in the commercial and enthusiast segments, leading to a strong Core mix.”
In other words, because a larger percentage of total personal computers sold are going to businesses and enthusiasts, and because those customers tend to buy pricier computers with more expensive Intel chips, Intel’s average chip sales prices rose.
It’s little surprise, then, that Intel wants to double down on its efforts in this particular corner of the personal computer market, both to capture the growth opportunities and, quite frankly, to fend off fierce competition.
On this front, Intel announced a new chip called the Core i7-8086K. It’s a faster version of the Core i7-8700K that launched in Oct. 2017. While the 8700K runs at a base frequency of 3.7GHz and a turbo speed of 4.7GHz, the 8086K runs at a base speed of 4GHz and a turbo speed of 5GHz (bigger numbers equal better performance).
The 8700K was already easily the best desktop processor out there for gaming, and the 8086K should extend the company’s lead.
It’s worth noting that Intel says that this is a “limited edition processor,” but I suspect that the company will sell them just about as quickly as it can make them. More importantly, though, I think this is exactly the kind of part that can help generate a halo effect around the rest of the company’s enthusiast desktop processor lineup.
Beyond the Core i7-8086K, Intel said it plans to introduce a new high-end desktop processor family as well as next-generation mainstream desktop processor parts (likely to be branded 9th generation Core) by the end of 2018.
Ultimately, I think Intel’s current enthusiast desktop processor lineup is strengthened by the addition of the i7-8086K, and things could get even better on that front when the new high-end desktop and 9th generation Core desktop processors launch.
We’re seeing Intel slowly but surely get more in tune with its customer base, particularly with those buyers who are the most enthusiastic about its products (e.g., gamers). On top of that, Intel’s news releases focused a lot more than previous ones on processors and computer technology — the company’s core business — rather than on fluffier subjects like drones or niche use cases.
Although I’m hesitant to make a firm call yet, I think Intel is coming back to its senses and realizing that it’s a processor company first, and that consumers and investors are most interested in what it has to say when it talks about how it’s bringing leadership offerings to the market.
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