Intel fights back against AMD, Qualcomm

Over the last year and half, Intel has been under siege from various competitors in the consumer PC product segments. Once dominant and seemingly untouchable, Intel must now deal with an AMD that started its resurgence in the processor market in early 2017 and has been gaining market share and significant momentum amongst buyers, media, and analysts that follow these fields.

Qualcomm is also guilty of taking a poke at Intel with its low power Snapdragon processors working their way into new Windows 10 notebooks that focus on portability, integrated cellular connectivity, and extreme battery life.

During the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan this week, Intel is trying to prove to its partners and the public that it is back on message, reengaged with an aggressive agenda for the consumer desktop and mobile markets once again. Though consumer PCs may not be a growth market in most developed countries, there is acceleration in undeveloped locales.

And even if the market is stable or slow, Intel must be able to stand its ground to avoid losing revenue to these resurgent competitors.

New desktop movement

In the consumer desktop space, Intel announced an upcoming product refresh for its high-end, workstation class X-series chips by the end of 2018 that addresses the small, yet vocal, enthusiast user space. These buyers are willing to spend top dollar for the best quality components and provide high margin sales while also driving the narrative of the market, influencing lower priced sales. Winning in the high-end market provides direct and indirect benefits that waterfall to mainstream product segments.

The company will be offering a new S-series of products by the end of 2018, going after the mainstream PC market that AMD has been able to capitalize on significantly over the last year. Additionally, Intel will be releasing a special edition processor celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the 8086 CPU, the first with the x86 architecture that led Intel to its decades of success. This limited-edition chip will offer extremely high speeds that have never been seen in an off-the-shelf part before.

Critics of Intel believe that it had lost its way when talking to the lucrative PC gaming and enthusiast markets, offering rehashes of previous generations with little thought going into the design and marketing of them. With any product correction, this will take time for Intel to make up ground, but it believes these accelerated releases, with features and performance that could be better than AMD’s, will prove it has recognized its deficiencies and is on a correction course.

Laptop segment under attack

With both high-performance AMD Ryzen Mobile processors and the ultra-efficient Qualcomm chips applying pressure on Intel in the notebook space, Intel announced at Computex that it would have a pair of new architectures ready called Whiskey Lake-U and Amber Lake-Y. No time table was given, but both promise double-digit performance gains over Intel’s previous products.

This should help stem the tide against AMD in the high-end of the consumer and commercial notebook markets and also Qualcomm when it comes to ultra-portable designs that focus more on battery life.

Intel’s trouble with chip production technology is a big hurdle for its mobile chip roadmap. During its latest earnings call, Intel admitted that production of 10nm chips would be pushed into 2019. AMD and Qualcomm are planning to have 7nm processors available in 2018, and because smaller process technology leads to better, faster chips, its possible that Intel will struggle to keep up.

New technology initiatives

Proving that it can do more than just making PC processors to help push the industry forward, Intel showed an initiative to work with laptop display manufacturers and build more power efficient screens. Screens are often the largest consumer of battery and dropping power draw by 50% could bring significant uplift in usable run time on future notebooks.

Qualcomm has been squeezing Intel with aggressive marketing about its platform’s ability to provide much better battery life than Intel’s best options. As major OEMs like HP, ASUS, and Dell considering building more Qualcomm-based machines, Intel needs to offer solutions that its competition cannot and attempt to close the battery life gap.

Dual-screen mobile devices were also showcased as a near-term future for laptops and portable computing. Driven in part by the Microsoft Andromeda project, this new hardware might replace the physical keyboard with an additional touch-enabled display, drastically altering the way we interact with our PCs. Those same PC manufacturers are working on designs in this field as well, and Intel wants to show it is engaged in the future of consumer computing and not abandoning it in favor of the attention-grabbing AI and machine learning segments.

Intel needs to be the aggressor

With this opportunity in front of it, Intel is showing to investors and the vast partner ecosystem that the company has a renewed push for consumer products. With management shuffling around marketing already taking place, it might appear that the days of ignoring the core technologies that built Intel into the tech giant it is today, in favor drone light shows, might be behind us.

These announcements, though light in detail and timing, tell me that the executive team understands where it went wrong and that they are willing to put energy into addressing it. AMD and Qualcomm will still have their chance to make announcements at the show, possibly redirecting the narrative yet again.