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Intel: The death of the PC has been greatly exaggerated

Positive growth and new form factor are bringing life back to the PC market, say Intel executives.


At Intel’s Solutions Summit this past week in Singapore the dark clouds that once hung over the desktop space were nowhere to be found. That’s because in the last quarter of 2013 the market has finally bucked a trend of the last two years, moving back to consecutive quarterly growth.

As Intel reported during its most recent earnings call and reiterated at its Solutions Summit, desktop processor volume was up seven percent in Q4 2013 year-over-year. This has been credited to a variety of factors: the planned obsolescence of Windows XP, renewed interest in desktops and notebooks as well as a heightened demand for alternative form factors such as all-in-ones (AIOs) and ultra-small next unit computing (NUC) devices.

“We are well on our way to reinventing the personal computer,” Intel’s CFO, Stacy Smith, is quoted as saying during the earnings call in January.

The AIO form factor, as Intel executives said at the summit, is especially pushing growth in the desktop segment as users are intrigued with the ease of using touch — once reserved for mobile — on a desktop platform. The niche form factor, which represents approximately 10 percent of the segment, is growing faster than the rest of the desktop space.

While most desktops and notebooks have been “good enough” for most users for the past three to five years, users are simply finding that it’s time to upgrade explained Intel’s Lisa Graff during her presentation at the summit. As data shows high-volume enterprise customers are finally making that push to a new operating system and with it comes new computers.

As Graff also explained Intel has found customers in many alternative devices which before MIPS and ARM may have enjoyed a duopoly in. The embedded market, with applications like digital signage, is taking a long hard look at using Atom chips as opposed to the traditional fare of ARM or MIPS. Intel is also pushing for growth in the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) market with big development and innovation funds that no other company has a chance of matching.

While a return to growth in the PC market, and aggressive moves to alternative markets, should be welcome news to many investors there’s also a cause for concern that Intel is only returning to growth in its flagship market because the absolute ceiling to the refresh cycle has been reached. The time when new demands from software drove absolute staggering growth in the desktop market, like from the late 1990s to mid-2000s, is a time that Intel no doubt longs for but the reality is a pattern of slow shoots of growth after a stagnant period of three-to-five years is likely the harsh reality of Intel’s next decade. There’s just no compelling reason for it not to be.

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