Intel, AMD See Opportunity in Entry-Level, Mainstream PCs

Intel says "Bay Trail" Atom SoCs will get it into new areas of the PC space, while AMD says midrange price points are its sweet spot.

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices continue to be hit hard by declining worldwide sales of PCs, and both chip makers are looking to aggressively expand into new growth areas and lessen their reliance on the PC market.

However, neither vendor is pulling away from the PC industry. Instead, executives with each company this week said consumers are moving toward lower-priced mobile systems, and they are confident their product road maps put them in good positions to meet that demand.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, speaking to analysts and reporters July 17 after releasing the company's second-quarter financial numbers, said the new Core "Haswell" chips that are beginning to roll out will address the need for greater performance and power efficiency in PCs and other form factors, including tablets and convertible systems. At the same time, the upcoming Atom "Bay Trail" system-on-a-chip (SoC) will span both PCs and tablets, and will help Intel play in sections of the PC space that the company could not before.

"What [Bay Trail] really does is allows us to get into these markets that we're not in, in a big way today," Krzanich said. "Bay Trail really, first and foremost ... gives solid performance, solid battery life relative to the competition in price points and markets that we're simply not in. At the end of the day, the market will go where the market goes, and better to have a product like Bay Trail that we can play no matter where it goes rather than miss that market."

These markets include PCs priced below $400, touch-enable clamshell systems at less than $300 and tablets at less than $199, he said. And those prices will continue to fall going into 2014, the CEO said. Haswell and Bay Trail will enable Intel to address those trends.

"So the fact that PCs, especially with Bay Trail, are going to move down into this, let's call it $200-to-$400 range, is going to shift that market we believe as well and that's different than what's been out over the last few years," Krzanich said. "So you've got fan-less Haswell. You've got Bay Trail coming in. All of those things allowing devices that haven't been allowed in the past with our designs."

That shifting focus on the lower end of the PC pricing range dovetails with Intel's new efforts to bring its low-power Atom platform on par—in terms of focus, money and production processes—with the more expensive Core chips. Bay Trail—based on the new "Silvermont" architecture—will offer performance capabilities that are competitive with more mainstream PC chips.

"We will move Atom even faster to our leading-edge silicon technology and focus on the SoC integration of key components like graphics, communications and other devices," Krzanich said. "This does not mean we will lessen the value or leadership of our Core product family, but rather make Atom an equal player in technology leadership for the ultra-mobile space. Both product lines will be driving Intel's future."

For his part, AMD CEO Rory Read is seeing the market moving in an area that his company has always been strong in, and the launch in May of new accelerated processing units (APUs)—code-named "Kabini" and "Temash"—will continue the trend. In a conference call with analysts and journalists July 18 to discuss the company's second-quarter earnings, Read said he expects a range of new products from such system makers as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Samsung powered by the APUs to begin hitting the market in the second half of the year.

Those products will range from PCs and ultrathin systems to tablets and convertibles, AMD officials have said.

"The 300 million-plus-unit traditional PC market remains an important part of our core business, especially as the mainstream $300-to-$600 system price points that have been traditionally been our sweet spot become an even larger portion of the overall PC market," Read said. "Clearly, the market is moving down into the entry and mainstream price points, where we've played very well."