Will Platforms Give Intel a Lift?

Opinion: Intel is looking to new platforms to give it a step up on its competition. Will they at the same time bolster the sagging PC hardware business?

Intel says it wants to be a platform company. The statement sounds odd to me because Ive always thought that Intel was a platform company. However, we live in a brand-conscious world, and Intel has been very successful giving catchy names to the microprocessor sets it sells to its hardware OEMs and, eventually, to you and me.

Faced with tougher competition from AMD and the increasing commoditization of its core microprocessors, Intel wants to up the ante. By creating new "platforms," Intel hopes to deliver more features than its competitors and to brand them in such a way as to create Intel-specific demand for new PCs and upgrades.

/zimages/3/28571.gifIntels Professional Business Platform will be available with baked-in management software, along with speedier networking and faster graphics. Click here to read more.

Just as "Centrino" defines a certain feature set thats available from multiple hardware vendors, future Intel platform names will describe widely available new desktops and other systems. The feature sets will be different, but Intel wants PC buyers to know certain features are part of new Intel-based computers, regardless of manufacturer.

While I dont find the Centrino effort all that technologically impressive, it has helped to improve the popularity of 802.11 wireless and has made it easier for customers to buy a feature-optimized mobile computer. It may not be the most advanced computer, but its easy to purchase and customers know exactly what to expect, much like a McDonalds hamburger.

Intel says it will create other feature set "platforms" for desktop computers. I expect to see new platform brands for both enterprise and home entertainment users. In the not-to-distant future every Intel-based PC may be known not so much by its processor as by the "platform" its a part of.

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The value Intels platforms bring to the marketplace isnt that the company is so sensationally innovative, but that it can build new features into its PC chip sets at low cost and distribute them widely. Intel hopes to speed PC upgrade cycles by delivering more—and more rapidly changing—technology to its customers. The company is also counting, I think, on putting some smaller players either out of business or relegating them to the high end of the peripheral market. Platforms should also increase Intels share of what it costs a hardware OEM to build a machine.

Ive organized some additional thoughts into bullet points:

  • Intel is in a take-no-prisoners battle with the peripheral vendors it hasnt already crushed. Intel is adding everything it can to the basic PC platform. Intel may not be on the bleeding edge of wireless technology, for example, but when the large market arrives for a new technology, Intel will include it in the suite of products offered to its hardware manufacturer customers. These will be promoted to customers in much the same way Centrino has been.
  • Intel can do this because hardware has become such a commodity. Customers dont want groundbreaking technology as much as they want predicable functionality and ease of use.
  • I expect most of the new platforms will be a collection of communications, security and systems management features. These will tend to drive sales of higher-end hardware than customers might purchase otherwise.
  • Intel is scared. AMD is being seen by many as a real competitor and is becoming more real every day. Intel is responding to the competition by trying to expand the definition of what it means to be a provider of PC chip sets beyond AMDs capabilities.

/zimages/3/28571.gifAMD gains market share during the first quarter, while Intel slips. Click here to read more.

Intel isnt laying out too many specifics relating to its new platforms, but it will be interesting to see if the company can help its hardware OEMs create products interesting enough to breathe life into the sagging PC hardware business.

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers.

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