It's fall, football season is underway, and it's make or break
). The chipmaker has a new quarterback in CEO Brian Krzanich, and a
refreshed lineup. Haswell processors are finally hitting the
shelves in force, and Bay Trail - destined for tablets and low-end
notebooks - will make its first appearance in the next few months.
October marks the release of Windows 8.1 and, with a wave of new
machines hitting the market, the PC industry is positioned for a
strong performance this holiday season.
Anything less would be a disappointment. Haswell has extended
laptop battery life into the 8- to 10-hour range that was once only
seen in tablets and smartphones. With Windows 8,
) opened the door for new, more mobile form factors. Collectively,
the PC world is fielding one of the most aggressive teams it's ever
had - and if it fails to impress, we should be worried.
Amidst the gloom of falling computer sales, there have been some
hopeful signs. For one thing, prices are holding up. Earnings
statements from five of the largest PC vendors -
(HKG:0992) - show that revenue per unit has remained steady since
at least the beginning of 2011. At the same time, tablets and
smartphones have been racing towards lower price points, a trend
that may account for some of their growth. Additionally, while
global PC shipments fell 11% year-over-year in the second quarter,
the decline stateside
was less than 2%
. The US has historically been a leading indicator, and slowing
declines suggest that the market may be bottoming out.
For its part, Intel had a rough start to 2013. Revenue in the first
two quarters was down 4% versus the previous year, hit by slow PC
sales and lean inventories. Earnings fell 25%, largely due to the
rollout of Haswell, and ramp-up costs for the Broadwell line of
chips due out next year. The company expects margins to improve in
the next two quarters and earnings to clock in at a much-healthier
So, all around, things may be somewhat better - or at least,
somewhat less bad - than the numbers would have us believe. This
bodes well for the back half of 2013. Also promising are the new
machines hitting the market. Love it or hate it, Windows 8 has
stirred up the once-stodgy PC industry. While many of last year's
devices were - like the operating system itself - more experimental
than practical, this fall should bring a more mature lineup.
Windows 8.1 is expected to round out some of the rough edges and
jarring changes that weighed down the new OS, while OEMs (original
equipment manufacturers) have now had a few cycles to polish their
touch-based and convertible products.
The biggest improvement comes from Intel. In June, the chipmaker
introduced Haswell, a new generation of PC processors featuring
remarkable power savings. Apple was among the first big companies
to sell a Haswell-based machine, the 2013 MacBook Air. It saw a 40%
gain in battery life over the previous year's model, controlling
for battery size. Because Intel chose to release Haswell in
staggered fashion, most notebook-class chips are
only now hitting the shelves
. In the last month, Acer,
(SNE), Dell, Lenovo, and
(TYO:6502) have all announced new PCs running Haswell, and this
pace of new products will probably continue into the Windows update
Meanwhile, the Atom line of processors is about to see equally big
gains to battery life, plus substantial performance improvements.
Last week saw the launch of the Avoton, aimed at high-efficiency
servers. Early 2014 will bring Merrifield, intended for high-end
smartphones. Bay Trail rounds out the trio, and is probably the
most interesting of the three; it does something no ARM chip has
and fills the gap
between a full-fledged PC processor and an underpowered mobile
chipset. It can run both Android and the full version of Windows 8,
will earn higher margins than Intel's current Celeron and Pentium
lines, and could save manufacturers the hassle of designing for
different chip architectures to address different markets.
To be sure, most analysts expect continued bleeding from Intel and
its partners. We're told that consumers would rather spend $300 on
appendage for their smartphones
, than on a
Windows 8 tablet pre-loaded with Office
. That may be true -- you win some and you lose some -- but the
time has never looked better for a come-from-behind upset. At this
point, the locker room speeches have been given, bruised
manufacturers have suited up, and now the PC industry has to prove
that it's still in this game.
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