Desktop PC: Intel Says the End is Near
By Olin Coles
Back on August 2010, I made a prediction: desktop PCs have an expiration date, and that time may not be far off. I followed-up that article with several more editorials, arguing on both sides of the position that enthusiast desktop PCs would be killed by unnecessary overclocking products, but might later possibly be saved by enthusiast-level overclocking products. Both had their points, and both contained plenty of truth, but when I published the statistical obituary a few weeks later our readers commented in revolt. Even some of my industry peers said I was pessimistic, and that the enthusiast desktop PC industry would continue to thrive and grow. We disagreed, even as mounting evidence supported my claims.
Intel’s launch of Sandy Bridge processors around January 2011 really put a chill in the air, which made it tough for heatsink manufacturers to turn a profit. With no money involved, the aftermarket cooling industry evaporated and only a few major players with other cross-platform products would survive. I would later publish The State of Intel Desktop Motherboards, and in that article written two years ago I predicted key points that would prove themselves essential for Intel to sustain desktop motherboard development:
“For Intel to win this segment, they must successfully complete three difficult tasks: 1) convince consumers that they’re as good or better than the competition, 2) continue to offer aggressively priced motherboards, 3) deliver features not available from their partners. Without taking a firm position with their business partners, they will have no choice but to continue accepting defeat in the motherboard market.”
Based on an announcement made earlier today, it turns out my prediction was dead on. Intel has just announced the end of the desktop platform, or rather a slow three-year wind-down toward an end by 2016. It turns out that mobile phones, tablet devices, notebook computers, and console video game systems were killing the desktop PC platform faster than games like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, or Battlefield could recharge the desktop user base with stunning graphics and addictive gameplay. Intel knew this, as they monitored their own production of components for competing platforms, and today’s announcement marked the official beginning of the end for their desktop motherboard business:
We disclosed internally today that Intel’s Desktop Motherboard Business will begin slowly ramping down over the course of the next three years. As Intel gradually ramps down its motherboard business we are ramping up critical areas of the desktop space including integration of innovative solutions for the PC ecosystem such as reference design development, NUC and other areas to be discussed later.
The internal talent and experience of twenty years in the boards business (which until recently has been largely focused on desktop tower type designs) is being redistributed to address emerging new form factors — desktop and mobile – and to expand Intel’s Form Factor Reference Design (FFRD) work and enable our partners to develop exciting new computing solutions.
The Desktop segment continues to be a major focus for Intel with hundreds of products across many subsegments and applications. Intel expects the broad and capable DT motherboard ecosystem (ie Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and many others) to fully support Intel’s growing roadmap and large worldwide customer base. Intel’s Desktop Motherboard Business will not develop any new Intel branded desktop motherboards after completion of Haswell-based 4th gen Core launch products in 2013 and will continue to support all products sold through the warranty period included with the specific product.
As someone who has covered our boards a while I wanted to let you know the below info about that group that was announced internally here today. This is resource reallocation and alignment to new and emerging form factors and designs, and NUC sticks around for sure. It is good news in that there is a robust ecosystem of board vendors in your friends at Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, etc…. Also in that these great board engineers we have are moving to cool new form factors where board expertise is even more vital – small form factors, Ultrabook, desktop AIO etc…
Source: Intel Public Relations notice
What this means to consumers is that desktop PC enthusiasts will still have options, but only as many as vendors such as ASUS, GIGABYTE, and MSI can afford to produce. Since sales of desktop PC hardware are so low, there’s very little profit to be made and these vendors may follow Intel’s lead by making a complete exit. Most of these vendors have already safely diversified their product portfolio with new concentration towards mobile devices, peripherals, and network appliances.
While some would argue that the enthusiast desktop PC platform still exists because of overclocking, the out-of-the-box performance of today’s desktop processor proves this to be a false notion. In reality, the desktop PC platform only still exists because it can delivery graphics performance unavailable elsewhere. This translates to professional tools for some, but the majority of consumers spend money on hardware to support video games. Until the XBOX720 and PS4 gaming consoles can revive PC video games, there’s no point in upgrading anymore. Even less reason if you have faith in NVIDIA’s GeForce GRID project.
So now we’ve come back around full circle: I predicted this back in August 2010 and wrote a myriad of editorials in support of my claims, only to have Intel do exactly what I feared almost three years later. Unfortunately for our readers, time is ticking, and in three more years (less actually) the options will be few and far between.
COMMENT QUESTION: If desktop PCs disappear, what will you do next?