There is little doubt that the PC market could use some uplift these days as tablets and smartphones have clearly captured the mindshare of consumers, press and analysts.
However, Linley Gwennap, editor of the Microprocessor Report, believes that tablet and smartphone processors are merely a distraction for Intel and do not have enough potential to make up for the potential loss of notebook and desktop processor revenue.
Gwennap stated that persistent low growth rates are evidence that the PC processor is in a crisis, which may be partially homemade. He criticized the fact that performance of CPUs isn't growing fast enough to find the interest of consumers.
"Even counting a modest boost for the new Sandy Bridge CPU, performance is increasing at just 10 percent per year for desktops and 16 percent for laptops, a far cry from the good old days of 60 percent annual performance increases. As a result, PC users have little incentive to upgrade their systems," Gwennap wrote.
The key for Intel to remain successful would not be so much in mobile application processors that could barely make up for 5 percent of Intel's processor revenue, if Intel were to hold all the available market outside of Apple and Samsung, but to "stay the course" and make PCs more competitive again.
"It can’t do the job alone, but it knows how to work with Microsoft, PC vendors, and other ecosystem players," he wrote. "Having redefined the PC form factor, the next step is to rework the PC’s functions to include performance-hungry capabilities such as voice/gesture recognition and intelligent agents in ways that benefit end users."
Of course, making the processor special again could help as well. In 2005, Intel changed its marketing strategy to turn microprocessors into a commodity product that was sold with relatively cryptic sequence numbers. The idea was to not market the clock speed, but integrate a CPU into a PC almost invisibly as the engine that enables a certain form factor and feature set. Seven years later, the CPU and its sequence number has become largely meaningless to mainstream customers. Perhaps it would be a good idea to highlight the strength and performance of x86 once again.