Intel, AMD, Qualcomm Tout PC Chips at Computex

The processor makers unveil chips with more cores and greater connectivity at a time when the global PC market appears to be leveling off.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 850

The relatively stagnant PC market has been a focus of chip makers at the Computex tech show in Taipei this week, with officials from both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices promising significant boosts in core count in upcoming processors and Qualcomm unveiling a new chip aimed at Windows 10 Always Connected PCs.

At the show, Gregory Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Client Computing Group, introduced two chips in the company’s eighth-generation Core processor family, the Lake U Series for midrange and high-end laptops and Amber Lake Series for ultra-thin laptops and tablets. At the same time, Bryant touted new chips for desktop PCs, including a 28-core processor that can run at 5GHz and that will surpass the current 18-core Core i9 chip. It’s due to come to market in the fourth quarter.

For his part, Jim Anderson, senior vice president and general manager of AMD’s Computing and Graphics Business Group, announced the next generation of the company’s Ryzen Threadripper high-end chip based on the Zen architecture. Threadripper 2 reportedly will be based on AMD’s 12-nanometer Zen+ architecture and will sport up to 32 cores and 64 threads. It is scheduled to be released in the third quarter.

Qualcomm officials announced the company’s Snapdragon 850 mobile platform, which is the follow-on to the Snapdragon 835. The 10nm Snapdragon 850 (pictured), which includes the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem, is designed to bring to highly portable, fanless PCs some of the features found in smartphones, including long battery life and sleeker designs, officials said. It also delivers 30 percent better system performance than its predecessor as well as better battery life and data speeds. Systems powered by the Snapdragon 850 will be available later this year, including in one from Samsung.

The new offerings come at a time when the PC market continues to essentially tread water after several years of decline this decade. IDC analysts in April said that worldwide shipments of PCs in the first quarter were flat over the same period in 2017, buoyed in large part by businesses continuing to refresh their systems. There also is healthy demand for premium notebooks in both the commercial and consumer sectors, the analysts said.

According to Bob O’Donnell, principal analyst with TECHnalysis Research, the announcements coming out of Computex show a global PC market that, while not what it once was, is still a significant part of the larger tech space.

“What we’re seeing is a real revitalization of the core PC components,” O’Donnell told eWEEK. “It reflects to an era of a flat but still big PC market … and a much more competitive environment that is invigorating people.”

Intel for years has been the dominant player in the PC chip space. However, through its Zen architecture and Ryzen products, AMD has revived its PC business. Couple that with moves by Qualcomm and Arm, and the result is significantly more competition for Intel, which is good for PC OEMs and, ultimately, end users. That has been on display at Computex and “tells me that the future is bright,” the analyst said. “We’re not going to see tremendous growth, but it’s the end of the decline.”

He noted the revenue and shipment gains seen by such PC makers as HP Inc., Dell and Lenovo, who all have made changes to their strategies, including a focus on the high end of the market, which has helped drive up average selling prices.

In a blog post, Intel’s Bryant said that more than 80 percent of people will use their PCs when they need to get work done, even as the number of distractions increases and the mobile nature of work grows.

“Against this backdrop, there is an opportunity to fundamentally improve the PC experience to meet today’s needs and help people focus on what is most important to them,” he wrote.

That’s being done through more than processors. At Computex, Bryant said Intel’s new Optane SSD 905D solid-state drive, which is available in a smaller M.2 form factor, is aimed at improving system performance. Focusing on connectivity, Intel also announced that Sprint will now sell Intel-based 5G-connected PCs from the likes of HP, Lenovo, Dell, Asus, Acer and Microsoft, with the first 5G-connected laptops and two-in-one systems coming next year.

Qualcomm officials also stressed connectivity for the Snapdragon 850, which can support both WiFi and Gigabit LTE, giving the systems the “always connected” capabilities. The X20 LTE modem delivers up to 1.2G-bps LTE speeds and fast connectivity.

The increases in performance, speed and connectivity are necessary to enable PCs to handle emerging modern workloads, such as artificial intelligence (AI). Intel’s Bryant said the company will help bring AI to PCs through tools and resources given to developers and working with OEMs to put AI capabilities in systems. Intel introduced the AI on PC Developer Program, and at Computex, Asus and Intel introduced a concept dual-screen notebook called Project Recog that includes intelligent features.

Qualcomm will arm the Snapdragon with its AI Engine, which was introduced in February and includes hardware and software components to enable on-device AI-enabled user experiences.