It is likely that Intel is going to drop the manufacture of its desktop motherboards to concentrate mainly on the manufacture of x86 architecture hardware, which is compatible with ultrabooks and tablets.
Although this winding up may take place over the next three years, Ray Shaw of IT Wire provided insights on the conclusions that could be drawn from this development:
Intel will wind down its manufacture of desktop motherboards (MB) over the next three years. No big deal – responsible companies must jettison unprofitable operations to protect shareholder value…
But it is important to dig deeper as to why has its desktop (that’s a key word) MB manufacture become unprofitable and what conclusions can we draw from that.
Conclusion 1 – desktop (and mini-tower) PC’s are dead (and by that I mean Windows, Mac and Linux based x86 “boxes”). In my household of four we peaked a few years ago at a PC each plus being a techie type a variety of test units and a Windows Media Centre. PC’s were cheaper than laptops, easy to maintain and repair and had a useful life of 5 plus years. Over that time the very same PC could have started life as Windows XP (good reliable OS), gone to Vista (groan), then to Windows 7 (better) and to Windows 8 (best) with nary a change of hardware – well apart perhaps from more memory.
PC’s served the “LCD” factor well – Lowest Common (or Cost, or Convenience) Denominator. Today our family of four has become three separate households and has a total of six notebooks (and four large LCD monitors), one netbook, one tablet and four smart phones. I am not counting the computing power now in the various TV’s or home entertainment units either (some of which have more power than a PC).
Two things have happened to kill off PC’s
First PC’s are now more expensive than laptops or tablets (a misnomer of a term – portable computing devices would be more appropriate).
Second mobility (and space saving) became more important. It became an imperative for students to have a notebook and for adults to take an e-reader or tablet to bed.
Summary: Intel’s desktop MB business was originally started to develop reference designs that all the PC’s makers could use or adapt. Intel never manufactured MB’s – they engaged handful of Asian OEM manufacturers to make the board for them wrapped in an Intel brand and package.
Conclusion 2 – Intel dropped the ball by sticking with x86 architecture given the mobility trend (that Apple created)
Intel’s answer to mobility was to develop a crippled x86 version of its great desktop processor called Atom – to be fair I love my Atom based netbook and never found the Atom to be “too underpowered” to run Office etc., but it does not have a working days battery life. The exploding smart phone and tablet market wanted better battery life rather than x86 compatibility and led by Apple went down the LCD (Lowest Cost Denominator) route by adopting ARM based processors (NVidia Tegra, Apple Ax etc.)
ARM processors are now the world’s most popular computing processor. In 2011 7.9 billion of the tiny chips powered 95% of all smart phones, 90% of all disk drives, 40% of TV’s and set top boxes, 15% of microcontrollers and 20% of mobile (tablet) computers. The figures are out of date now but it is fair to say that all categories above would now be aproaching 100% use of ARM processors. Even the mighty Microsoft (computing was once referred to as Wintel – Windows and Intel) now uses ARM CPU’s in its Surface consumer based tablets and Windows 8 Phone is made to run ARM, not x86 processors (will we call that WinArm or ArmDows?)– end of the line for Intel here and it cannot put the genie back in the bottle.
Summary: Every ARM processor sold is a mortal wound to Intel who hoped it would be an x86 Atom… Can Intel’s mighty new Atom “system on a chip” break the ARM stronghold? I don’t know but the number of smart phones and tablets using the new Atom (and running full versions of Windows) is pathetically small.
Conclusion 3 – personal computing is no longer about hardware
• Tablets and mobile devices have largely replaced the LCD (cost) imperative to use a desktop (or notebook) and we all want to be mobile
• Cloud computing reduces the need for more powerful CPU’s and large hard disks (iCloud, SkyDrive etc)
• More and more applications are cloud (server side or thin client) or browser based making them potentially hardware agnostic
• Internet is gradually becoming ubiquitous and cheap (needs to be free) and
• Apple and Samsung almost have a duopoly in this space and a vested interest to gradually kill off x86 computing except for perhaps servers (and put pressure on ISP’s for better global internet coverage)
The outcome will be a swift move to portable computing devices.
Google has a vested interest here and has developed Chrome OS that runs on ARM processor based devices and works exclusively web applications (its own it hopes). It takes a minimalist approach – the only application on the device (currently a netbook made by Samsung) is the Chrome Browser so all work is done server side.
Dell has also seen the writing on the wall and bought WYSE (formerly a “dumb” terminal maker from the Xenix/Unix era) but latterly a thin client maker (server side computing). Via this acquisition Dell/Wyse are developing cloud computing and virtualisation solutions for business that cut costs, reduces systems management, enhances mobility and gives a rich user experience (no I did not copy this from their PR material). No wonder MS is rumoured to be interested in part acquisition of Dell – the world’s 3rd largest Windows x86 PC maker could cease to be a MS customer in time.
Then for business there is a huge move to virtualisation of operating systems, desktops and applications. Instead of a notebook a low cost tablet can run the Windows Desktop and Office. Virtualisation offers a major (but not the only) security solution to the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) dilemma that business’s face.
Summary: The battle for the computing environment is raging. I don’t dare predict the outcome but if the growth of Apple and the relative demise of those on the x86 bandwagon is any indication I think we are in for a wild ride.
Personally I believe x86 will remain the mainstay of business for some time to come but only if that camp addresses BYOD and strongly reassess their adherence to Office (and there are good reasons to adhere to it – standards, training etc). But I would be seriously looking at thin clients over PC/Workstations.
And in the consumer space it is shortly bye-bye Wintel.
Authors note: This is an opinion piece. Constructive dialogue is welcomed and if Intel, MS, Apple or others wish to put their views on record I will gladly incorporate them into the article. Source.
Conclusion, like Ray Shaw has said, it just his opinion, however he has made quite a lot of salient points.
These should not be ignored. More so, switching away from the desktop motherboard is simply the function of increasing acceptance of mobile computers like laptops, ultrabooks and tablets.
Its still a matter of time to discover that the x86 architecture will readily become the mainstay of business for some time to come.