28
Mar

What is prompting interest in Altera from Intel?

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-width This last week the Wall Street Journal published an article written by Dana Mattioli, Dana Cimilluca, and Don Clark about Intel® and Altera®.

The topic was Intel’s public expression of more than a passing interest in Altera from the perspective of an acquisition. Despite the fact no name could be publicly associated (the following claim is merely attributed to “people familiar with the matter” in the article) with the most important clause in the piece, “Intel Corp. is in advanced talks to buy chip partner Altera Corp”, a lot of editorial content appeared almost instantaneously after the publication of this article in the online WSJ, in what might easily be construed as merely a knee-jerk reaction as the 800 lb gorilla in the PC CPU business starts moving around and sniffing the air.

Is this interest the result of Intel’s obsession with opening other substantial revenue streams? Or is it being prompted by Intel’s inept handling of Altera as its biggest tenant for its foundry business? Or, finally, is it even being prompted by recent market acknowledgement of favorable features of Field Programmable Gateway Architecture (FPGA) semi-conductors (Altera’s main product line) for the development of what amounts to today’s hottest trend in computing — machine learning, algorithms and computer cognition systems. Incidentally, anyone skeptical on this last point should read this call for proposals from the ACM.

I will not take the time here to provide more detail on each of the above points, namely, the need to augment the PC CPU business with something equally compelling for major markets, the foundry business model, or FPGAs as a superior platform for machine learning applications. If you would like further detail on any of these, or all, please contact me and we can talk about it.

If impatient readers with a keen interest in either player in this drama still think it is very important to put together a strategy now to plan for this acquisition taking place, it might save them a lot of effort to simply mention “this notion has come up before” as a quick look at Analyst: Intel may acquire FPGA vendor, which was published back in 2010 will corroborate.

Bottom line, we need further word from Intel and Altera before any one of us should write much more about this. The setting simply is not clear enough, now, to warrant all of this chatter.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

16
Jan

Is the response to Intel’s Q4 2014 Results overdone?

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthOn Thursday, January 15, 2015 Intel reported the results of its Q4 2014 business activity. In the aftermath of the report, which included conservative guidance for the coming business quarter below analyst estimates, analysts expressed skepticism.

I should also note the conference included details about the extent of the costs Intel continues to incur to enter the market for CPUs for mobile devices. Finally, rumors circulated about the possibility of Apple changing CPU architecture for its Mac PCs and laptops.

But is the analyst negativity overdone? In my opinion it is. Market entry is never an easy process, especially when the business attempting to enter a market is the largest manufacturer of PC computer CPUs, and the target market is already mature and dominated by other vendors with well received products (the ARM chip architecture and its licensees, including Qualcomm). So there is a cost associated with this entry, which, admittedly, Intel has been paying out for several quarters.

However, the Q4 2014 results included a beat on the profit number and an increase in gross margin. These numbers, of course, include the losses just mentioned. If Intel is not only able to carry the cost of mobile market entry, but to, at the same time, increase its overall profitability and still hit estimated sales targets, then why all the gloom? Perhaps the answer is Q4 2014 is behind us and we are already nearly a third of the way through the next coming quarter.

I am not interested in debating this argument. Nor am I interested in analyzing the Apple rumors. What I am interested in doing is merely pointing to a very positive reception for one of the new Android tablets on the market powered by Intel’s Atom processor and the new Broadwell chip set. The tablet is manufactured by Dell, the Venue 8 7000. No less a fierce Intel naysayer than Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal wrote a very positive review of the device, in sharp contrast to reviews she published earlier about Microsoft’s Surface tablets.

The value of positive consumer press about these devices should not be underestimated. Stern’s review may mark a change in sentiment for precisely the right group of critics to influence affluent consumers to think hard about just which tablet they ought to buy next.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

9
Jan

Intel establishes a position in the Android tablet market

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthOn February 19, 2002, Microsoft and Intel announced a “Wireless Development Initiative” at the 3GSM World Congress. The Congress, in 2002, was held in Cannes, France. Now, nearly 13 years later, Intel has established itself as one of the premier chip manufacturers for one segment of the mobile device market – tablet computers.

An Intel® Atom Z3580 CPU powers Dell’s new Venue 8 7000 tablet computer. This tablet also includes Intel’s RealSense R200 SnapShot camera. Readers can learn more about this new camera technology on Intel’s website. The operating system is Android 4.4 KitKat. This Dell tablet has an MSRP of $399.00, with 16GBs of storage, 2GBs or RAM and an 8.4″ OLED HD screen (2560×1600 resolution).

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal website published a review of the Dell tablet. The review was written by Joanna Stern. She really liked the device. Readers should note Stern has yet to come to the same conclusion with regard to Microsoft’s Surface 3, at least as I read her opinion. So winning a “like” from Stern is no small feat.

But the Dell tablet is not the only example of Intel’s penetration of this market segment. Lenovo is using another Intel Atom processor, the 3745, to power a tablet in the sub $200 MSRP range, the Lenovo TAB S8. The Lenovo tablet also runs on Android 4.4 KitKat O/S and offers an 8″ HD screen (1920×1200 resolution) and 2GBs of RAM. HP is also offering Android tablets powered by the same Intel Atom CPU technology.

Intel has provided incentives for its OEMs to produce devices running on Intel technology. Mention has been made of these incentives in the most recent Intel earnings conference call. Intel has also announced it will implement a new way of reporting on its business activity in this market. Mobile administration, marketing and sales costs will be rolled into its PC device business, as Aaron Tilley reported in Forbes last November, in an article titled Intel Is Combining Its PC And Mobile Units As The Lines Between The Two Blur.

In my opinion the negative analyst reaction to this announcement, and, in fact, the overall analyst impression of just how much effort Intel has invested in this activity, to date, is overstated. The fact is they are now winning at the effort, which, going forward, should be very good news.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

6
Jan

Promotional content for tablets running on Intel processors still comes up short

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthIntel® announced the availability of a set of 17 new CORE microprocessors at the CES 2015 event this week. The specs on these CPUs are impressive. Perhaps Intel OEMs can accompany the debut of these new chips with substantially more effective marketing communications than has been the case in the past.

Readers may wonder about the gap. Just how has the editorial branding of tablets, smartphones and even laptops, notebooks and 2-in-1 small form factor mobile computing devices powered by Intel missed the mark? Where Intel’s technology has been used to power mobile computing devices running a Microsoft operating system, the promotional content presented to consumers, in my opinion, has been calibrated too tightly to speak to the needs of the low end of the market. This rigidity may be a reason for comparatively low sales volume for these devices. Windows tablets are something different from desktop PCs. Then again, they are also something very different from Android tablets

There are 2 big reasons why any consumer should seriously consider purchasing a tablet running Microsoft Windows 8.1 vs a comparably priced tablet from, for example, Samsung, running Google’s Android O/S:

  • There will certainly be an update path on the O/S, which is likely not going to be the case for the tablet produced by Samsung
  • The computing experience will be consistent with any desktop computer running Microsoft Windows 8.1. This cannot be said of the Samsung device. I own a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.1 10.1, which is less than 2 years old, but is, nevertheless, entirely obsolete. The device does not support a web browser useful for highlighting and copying text, ets. The $700, approx, paid for the Samsung product amounts to a throwaway

But the marketing communications hasn’t spoken to these points. Instead, the typical marketing communications campaign for a tablet powered by Intel, running Windows, is built around an effort to highlight features directly competitive with Android and iOS powered tablets. This is a big oversight and one which should be corrected as soon as possible, if this new line of CORE processors is to perform better for the OEMs making the investment required to build them.

After all, no one likes losing money, so if consumers are better informed before they proceed down a dead end as they will should they opt to purchase an Android tablet as I did, OEMs can rest assured their change in editorial direction will benefit everybody.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

5
Jan

Intel brings to market 5th generation CORE processors

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthOn the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), 2015, Intel® introduced its line of 5th generation CORE, “Broadwell”, processors. These new additions include the CORE m processor, which was introduced in early December, 2014, and is notable as a first in consumer grade 14 nm chip technology.

Don Clark wrote about the debut of these CPUs in an article titled Intel Unveils New Flagship ‘Broadwell’ Chips for PCs. Intel has provided new pages on its website promoting these new CORE processors.

Readers unfamiliar with why the debut of consumer-grade 14 nm computing technology is an important event should consider the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 2 in 1 computer (tablet and laptop). The Surface Pro 3 empowers users with a completely functional personal computer powered with Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 O/S (not the Windows 8.1 RT O/S powering the Surface 2) in an ultra lightweight, comparatively small hardware form factor.

The capability of this hardware form factor (which works fine without a fan) to run completely standard versions of the current Microsoft O/S release should not be under-appreciated. HP is presently selling a model of its Envy consumer-grade PC line, powered by a CORE m and 8 GBs of RAM. This hardware can easily support a Linux Virtual Machine, not to mention any of the 3rd party software targeted to the Windows 8.1 user community.

Price is a drawback. HP displayed a price of $949.99 for the Envy device on its website on January 5, 2015. On the same date, I noted Lenovo promoting a “Yoga 3 Pro 2-in-1” powered by the CORE m at an even higher price of $1,199.00.

The initial market for this technology is, therefore, the high end of the laptop/notebook consumer, which may limit its sales promise to consumers in need of a refresh for existing hardware. But a combination of better marketing communications, together with consumer appreciation for the capabilities of the hardware I have not discussed in this post (readers are recommended to read Clark’s post, or to review the pages I have mentioned on Intel’s website to obtain this information), should help these devices make a positive contribution to the Intel OEMs opting to bring them to market.

I will discuss the marketing communications point in the next post to this blog. The point of the communications effort is to better inform consumers about the benefits of devices like these, which are powered by a full-featured O/S (Windows 8.1), versus lower cost competitive options with neither the support of a comparable O/S, nor a reliable promise of an upgrade path given a plethora of versions (I’m thinking squarely about Android here).

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

10
Dec

Use Hadoop to collect and analyze data with clusters of computer servers

Customers with large amounts of data, who are capable of supporting a distributed server architecture, as clusters, can benefit from a decision to implement Apache Hadoop® as the solution. The key operant principle is the notion of clusters. Readers eager to learn more about this benefit may want to take a few moments to review a short animation, titled Hadoop* Server Clusters with 10 Gigabit Intel® Ethernet, which is available for public viewing on a web site published by Intel.

I’m not recommending the video for the presentation of Intel’s high speed gigabit networking hardware. This segment takes up approximately the last 1-2 mins of the animation. But the opening section does more to present viewers with information about how Apache Hadoop is uniquely capable of adding value to any effort to implement data management and analytics architectures over comparatively lower cost server hardware than most of the hype otherwise available online on the notion of “big data”.

For readers looking for even more help drilling down to just what the value-add may amount to should a decision be made to implement Hadoop, a quick visit to a page on the MapR© web site titled What is Apache™ Hadoop®? will likely be worth the effort. The short presentation on the page, in my opinion, provides useful information about why clusters of servers are uniquely capable of servicing as the repository for an enormous number of web pages filled with information.

Certainly market consumers have opted to implement Hadoop for a lot of other purposes than its original “reason to be” as an evolution of “a new style of data processing known as MapReduce” (which was developed by Google) as the MapR presentation points out. These implementations provide a lot of the support for arguments for the notion of “big data”, at least the ones short on hype and long on sensibility.

What’s missing from the MapR presentation are customer success stories/case studies. Fortunately anyone looking for this type of descriptive content on just how real life businesses can benefit from an implementation of Hadoop can simply visit a page of the Hortonworks web site titled They Do Hadoop and watch some of the videos.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

9
Dec

Hadoop attracts support from Microsoft and Intel

The Apache Hadoop project “develops open-source software for reliable, scalable, distributed computing” (quoted from the “What is Apache Hadoop?” section of the site). So it makes sense for Microsoft and Intel to enthusiastically support the project. Microsoft is deeply committed to its cloud, IaaS effort, Azure, and one of the prime revenue generators for Intel is its Data Center Business. Azure and Intel’s Data Center business are both all about lots and lots of computer servers. The former consumes servers, while the latter provides the CPUs driving them.

As I wrote in the previous post to this blog, it’s likely a majority of the enterprise consumer segment of the tech reader community maintains a questionable understanding of the notion of “big data”. But, when correctly understood, it should not be a stretch for readers to understand why the Apache Hadoop project (or its OpenStack competitor) are positioned at the very core of this technology trend.

Microsoft and Intel are not the only mature ISVs looking to benefit from big data. IBM and EMC are two other champions with solutions on the market to add value for enterprises looking to implement Hadoop.

Intel ostensibly understands the ambiguity of the notion of “big data”, and the imperative of providing the enterprise business consumer with a clearer understanding of just what this buzzword is really all about. A section of the Intel web site, titled Big Data, What It Is, Why You Should Care, and How Companies Gain Competitive Advantage is an attempt to provide this information.

But Intel’s effort to educate the consumer, in my opinion, falls into the same swamp as a lot of the other hype before it can deliver on its promise. The amount of data may be growing exponentially, as the opening of the short Intel animation on the topic contends, but there are a lot of mature ISVs (Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, etc) with relational database management systems, designed for pricey big server hardware, which are capable of providing a columnar structure for the data.

Even when “unstructured data” is mentioned, the argument is shaky. there are solutions for enterprise consumers like Microsoft SharePoint (specifically, The Term Store service), which are designed to build a method of effectively pouring text data into an RDBMS, for example SQL Server (the terms are added to SQL Server and are used to tag the text strings identified in unstructured data).

I am not arguing for the sole use of traditional RDBMSs, with SQL tools to manage a data universe experiencing exponential growth. Rather, I think big data proponents (and Hadoop champions) need to perform a closer study on what the real benefits are of clustering servers and then articulate the message for their enterprise computing audience.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

5
Dec

Look for even more feature hype as ISVs present new features somehow failing to reach consumers as promised

In an earlier post to this blog, titled Enterprise IT ISVs Contributed to the Bloated Feature Set for PCs this writer published comments about how the very close relationship between Intel and Microsoft, which first began, one can argue, when IBM turned over the chip manufacturing pieces of the original PC to Intel, actually worked to the disadvantage of both parties. The outcome of this mismatch of efforts was, we argued, the Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC) hardware architecture, which covered far too many bases to successfully compete with its Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) rivals. The RISC machines won the contest. The mobile device world is filled with small, smart devices built to conform to RISC architecture principals.

Now, in late 2014, we think it would be better, (and consumers would, ultimately, benefit more) if hardware, firmware, and software all actually worked closer together. Unless/until these players warm up to each other, devices are simply not going to work as advertised. Marketing communications messaging about new features will simply devolve into just more hype.

Over the last several posts to this blog we’ve presented some examples we’ve found of this problem eating away at some of the opportunities computing hardware consumers may hope to enjoy from their purchase decisions:

  1. Solid State Drives, purchased after market, do not work well with Intel PCs running Microsoft’s Windows O/S.
  2. Android devices, at least from Samsung, can’t be upgraded to new versions (for example, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, 2.1, requires a “root canal” if a consumer wants to avail of the new KitKat or Lollipop O/S, and chuck JellyBean).
  3. A new Apple iOS O/S is made available to older iPhones and iPads, but performs poorly once it is installed; consumers suspect they have been hoodwinked into downloading and installing the new O/S as a means of pushing a new hardware sale.
  4. Finally, Personal Assistants aren’t equipped to understand complex verbal linguistics, and fail to work in high demand situations. Bi-Directional voice conversations don’t sync well with hands free bluetooth audio in cars

This list could go on for quite a while.

In this writer’s opinion, ISVs will do better to either completely abandon the notion of an after-market for new hardware products, or work closer together, perhaps via standards committees, etc.

But there is nothing on the horizon pointing to either of these events happening any time soon. For now, consumers are simply better off researching very carefully each nuance of any planned changes before embarking on them.

Ultimately ISVs will likely suffer more than consumers from this condition.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

4
Dec

The holiday buying season, 2014, opens with promise for PC manufacturers and Microsoft

The Friday, November 28, 2014 online edition of Barrons included a story written by Tiernan Ray on the outlook for this year’s holiday buying season for consumer PCs. The title of the story is Intel, AMD: This Is the Beginning of the Consumer PC Recovery, Says Wells. The article is written around comments from an analyst at Wells Fargo, David Wong about the condition of the consumer PC market. Wong’s comments, in turn, are based on comments made by HP CEO Meg Whitman, which she voiced during an interview on CNBC. The CNBC interviewer was David Farber.

Whitman’s comments: “We saw pretty strong results from the consumer in the fourth quarter and again, I think it’s a refresh cycle” in my opinion are conservative. The key phrase, for me, is “refresh cycle”. But perhaps renewed consumer interest in PCs goes beyond merely refresh cycle replacement of existing equipment. After all, with laptops running Windows 8.1 available from HP at a cost of a mere $229.00, it’s difficult to see how some segment of the tablet market (not to mention the Chromebook market) won’t pause to think long and hard before plunking down cash on a device without a keyboard and a much higher retail price.

If this segment of the tablet market converts into buyers of ultra low cost PCs, then, in my opinion, we will be looking at something more than simply a refesh cycle. Bottom line: with an improved Microsoft Windows 8.1 O/S, a keyboard, reasonably light weight, and manageable dimensions, these low end laptops represent a much better deal than their tablet competition for consumers in need of a computing experience (as opposed to simply a home entertainment smart box).

Microsoft certainly stands to benefit from any uptick in the consumer segment. One can argue the cost of the Windows 8.1 O/S for OEMs marketing these ultra low cost PCs is likely to be a giveaway, but the opportunity opened for sales of Office 365 Personal, Office Pro Plus, etc. shouldn’t be discounted.

The whole Microsoft, Intel, AMD and hardware OEMs ecosystem looks pretty good, at least on Black Friday.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

17
Oct

Intel announces the debut of Core M Processors

During Intel’s Q3, 2014 Earnings Conference Call, CEO Brian Krzanich announced the debut of the Core M line of core CPUs. The first devices powered by this new processor platform, per Krzanich, will come to market before the end of October, 2014. Computing devices powered by these processors, Krzanich noted, will feature “full core performance”, and a “fanless design enabling breakthrough designs and form factors”.

These processors appear to share a lot of the features of i3/i5/i7 cores powering Microsoft’s Surface 3 Pro tablet. Chip architecture permits a “razor thin design” (~9mm) and extended battery life (up to 9 hours). The graphics performance of the chipset has also been enhanced and optimized for online content.

The promotional content on Intel’s web site on this Core M chipset continues themes Microsoft employed during its debut of the Surface Pro 3: 2-in-1 devices are portrayed as viable replacements for “laptops”, which are characterized as slow, heavy, and inefficient. With these devices consumers will no longer have to purchase tablets for entertainment, and PCs for work: both functionality will be available from these 2-in-1 devices, and, Intel contends, with superior performance.

There is little indication this writer could find on Intel’s web site, or elsewhere, about specific devices running on one of these CPUs. Price point will certainly be an important consideration for Intel OEMs, so the early examples of devices powered by Core M processors may tell us a lot about just where Intel has assumed devices powered by Core M processors will be positioned in the market.

Emulating last year’s hot features — ultra thin form factors, long battery life, lightweight devices with high definition displays and graphics — may not amount to much in 2015. If the ASPs consumers end up paying for these devices hover around the price points for Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 devices, we think market demand will be a lot less than hot, and restricted to the high end of the BYOD, consumerized IT segment.

It would be nice to see these processors powering devices in the $300 – $600 range. But, as of the date of this post, we have no examples to point to of what the street price will look like for them.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved