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Intel's Transformation May Not Be Enough

Stocks in this article: INTC ARMH TSM AAPL

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In his first keynote address at an Intel Developer Forum, new Intel (INTC) CEO Brian Krzanich was feisty and upbeat.

Intel is going to be everywhere in the new chip markets, he said, showing prototypes of low-power "Quark" chips inside tablets and bracelets, and promising that products based on 14-nanometer architecture will be delivered next year.

"The PC is in the business of redefining itself," he said. "So is Intel."

But is it?

One of the first things consumers will see from this "new Intel" are Chromebooks running the company's "Haswell" chips. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Acer, Asus and Toshiba all showed off these products at the forum, promising prices as low as $300 for WiFi-only models with 14-inch displays.

But underneath the optimism, there's disquiet. Google (GOOG) hasn't committed to Haswell, and the new products won't be using the Haswell name because Google isn't implementing some of the chip's features.

All this illustrates Intel's basic problem. The new markets have left without it, often using designs from rival ARM Holdings (ARMH). Device makers like ARM for its low-power designs, but they also like that they can customize those designs, order just what they need, and control the intellectual property that flows from them.

While Krzanich says Intel will compete at all price and power levels, that's not the question his customers are asking. Many device companies see this as a make-or-buy decision, and have chosen to make their own chips through third-party foundries rather than buy them from the fully integrated Intel.

Servers, traditionally Intel's highest-profit market, are also being replaced by cloud data centers using the cheapest chips available. At its forum, Intel showed off low-power chips dubbed "Avoton" and "Rangeley" for these new markets, but the first question their salesmen will be asked is "How much?" Cloud means that they will have to compete in the server market on price, not just features.

The initial stock market reaction to the Intel Developer Forum was positive, and Intel shares began trading Friday up nearly 2%. But the stock has been drifting sideways for years. It's up just 12% over the last five years, while ARM is up more than 700%. ARM shares are up recently because the Apple (AAPL) A7 chip is based on an ARM design.

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